There’s been plenty of analysis from pundits and fans alike concerning Warren Gatland’s Lions squad. One man who’ll be doing more analysis than most though will be All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen.
The former Welsh national coach will be looking for any and all advantages he can gain ahead of the tour. In that vein, it appears he has fired an early shot in the psychological warfare around this Test series.
Speaking on Thursday morning in New Zealand to Rugby Heaven, Hansen cast his eye over fellow Kiwi Gatland’s selection.
“I think this is the best British and Irish Lions that we’ve seen come here for a long, long time.
“There is depth all the way through, that’s why people like [Dylan] Hartley and some of the Scottish boys have missed out because there’s so much depth. You’ve only got to look at the five-eighths.
“A guy like Finn Russell’s been playing extremely well and can’t even make the team because they’ve got Sexton, Farrell and Biggar there, you’ve also got young Ford missing out.”
When pressed on the absence of England captain Hartley, Hansen continued:
“The guy who has the last say is usually the guy that is coaching them. I think (Hartley) would have been an asset but I’m not picking the team.”
However, Hansen went on to try strike the first psychological shot of the series. He cast aspersions on the style of play Gatland looks set to employ.
“He likes his big ball carriers in the middle of the park and his big grunty forwards so that’s what he’s picked and I’d expect we’ll get a similar game-style to whatever we’ve got when we’ve played a Warren Gatland team.
“I think they’ll tell us they will, but I think they will want to win up front first.”
The intimation being that the Lions need to win it up front, convincingly. This would appear to mean Hansen thinks they have the advantage at the back.
Of his own charges, the All Black head coach said preparation were going well. Particular attention fell on the Hurricanes back Jordie Barrett who is chasing a place in Hansen’s 33-man squad for the three-Test series.
“He’s playing pretty good so … he’s thereabouts.
“He’s been playing well. We took him away on the tour last year for a reason and he’s come back and shown that that’s been worthwhile.”
Eoin Neylon, Pundit Arena