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British & Irish Lions squad full of potential

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allblacks.com     20 Apr 2017     Getty Images

The key, as has always been the case in Lions' tours is getting the selection right, having the players heading in a similar direction and achieving that while facing some daunting New Zealand franchise series in order to arrive at the three-Test series in competitive mode.

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Gatland has made much of Ireland's win over the All Blacks in Chicago last year, a win reversed by a stronger New Zealand side two weeks later in Dublin.

But he said the Chicago effort had proved to all members of his side that the All Blacks could be beaten.

Knowing the New Zealanders have cut a swathe through international rugby with a new-look side since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Gatland's side has to look to deny the home team of the initiative it has gained in setting the pace in playing style and method.

Just what does All Blacks coach Steve Hansen have in store for the Lions, who have to compete on New Zealand's terms on their home grounds?

Ireland captain Rory Best makes a good point when he says it is important that information sharing becomes a key part of the Lions approach to the tour.

"Everyone know each other and we've played against each other at club and international level, so it's just about trying to become a team and driving forward and holding nothing back," he told the Irish Times.

"The little intricacies we have with Ireland, we need to explore those and tell people about them in the Lions, what worked against New Zealand and what worked in other games, and we'd expect to see that [input] from the other nations," he said.
Getting that buy-in would be crucial because time was against the Lions once the tour was underway and the information sharing would need to start from the word go.

"We have to get together, strip everything back and try to enjoy each other's company, and hope that is also reflected on the pitch," he said.

There is no doubt Gatland has picked a side with power in the tight. Equally, there is great ability in the loose forwards where the potential clashes are mouth-watering even from a distance. The presence of Sean O'Brien and CJ Stander, the terrific Irish pair, backed by Billy Vunipola will represent a titanic struggle for Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read.

Locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock will be tested by the likes of Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson in their roles while the front row contest will ensure the best of Ireland and England will be pitted against Joe Moody, Dane Coles and Owen Franks.

One of the issues of the 2005 tour was finding a place for Jonny Wilkinson, who ended up playing at second five-eighths. At least Owen Farrell has had some experience in the role with England, but Gatland has said he has picked him as a first five-eighths.

It is just the sort of issue that could over-ride much of the media attention ahead of the Test series. It will be interesting to see how Gatland plays that one.

There is undoubted potential in the Lions' midfield but again combinations are going to be crucial, especially in the wake of the All Blacks' defensive attention while there is undoubted ability in the rear with the likes of George North, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell offering plenty of speed.

If nothing else, Gatland's choice of 41 players has given him strength in all positions and the competitive nature will be vital to his selection process. That should ensure a high quality series is on the cards.

The 2017 British and Irish Lions team to tour New Zealand:

Backs:
Dan Biggar, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Lee Halfpenny, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart Hogg, Jonathan Joseph, Conor Murray, George North, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Seymour, Ben T'eo, Anthony Watson, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Ben Youngs

Forwards: Rory Best, Dan Cole, Taulupe Faletau, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George, Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Jack McGrath, Ross Moriarty, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Sam Warburton (captain).