The British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of New Zealand was revealed this week and following the announcement, former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick has changed his tune on how he rates the tourists’ chances this summer.
The 92-time capped former hooker, who now bases himself in London, has conceded that on seeing just who was in the 41-man Lions squad has caused him to take the threat to the All Blacks far more seriously than he had previously.
Reported by Rugby Heaven, Fitzpatrick issued a warning to All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen,
“If you had asked me 12 months ago have the Lions got any chance, I would have said not a shot in hell.
“But 12 months on, the influence of Vern Cotter, Eddie Jones and Joe Schmidt, in particular, has changed my thinking.”
It appears the latest installment of the Six Nations championships has given the Kiwi food for thought.
“Traditionally the Six Nations is a game of attrition and not very expansive, but this was probably the best Six Nations I’ve seen in terms of the quality of rugby and the creation of space, and defensively it was also outstanding.”
Fitzpatrick goes on to say that he believes Lions head coach Warren Gatland has gotten his selection spot on.
“It’s an excellent squad. He’s obviously thought about it pretty long and hard, he’s thought about a game-plan that can beat the All Blacks and then he’s gone away and found the players who can do that.
“The quality of the players who have missed out is a good reflection of how good this team is. To have a player like Joe Launchbury, who I thought was the best second-rower in the Six Nations, miss out says a lot.
“Gats is very smart. He knows what it takes to win in New Zealand.
“He’s looked at what happened in ’05, when they (the Lions) misread the atmosphere and got it totally wrong. They struggled on the field but more importantly they really struggled off it.
“And if you’ve got a nation of rugby-mad people against you, it makes it so much harder.”
The former All Blacks captain finishes with a word of caution to both test sides.
“Can they beat the All Blacks? If the All Blacks play to their best the Lions are not going to win.
“But if the All Blacks are five percent off, they’ve got an opportunity.”
So while Fitzpatrick believes the Lions have the squad to do the job in New Zealand, they will need to be at the peak of their form in order to stand chance.
The tourists begin their series with a June 3rd game against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, before the first test against the world champions on June 24th.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena