Isa Nacewa fears the British & Irish Lions could be beaten up before they even reach the first Test given their “brutal” tour schedule.
The Leinster captain, who played against the Lions for provincial side Auckland on the 2005 tour, has joined the chorus of concern for the tourists over the punishing nature of 10 games in six weeks against top-level Super Rugby teams.
Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad were due to touch down in Auckland last night (Irish time), with just three days of acclimatisation and training before the tour kicks off against the New Zealand Barbarians in Whangarei on Saturday.
The opening game will be against a selection of non-Super Rugby players from provincial sides but, in stark contrast to the provincial opposition of a dozen years ago which faced Clive Woodward’s Lions, the 2017 squad then face four of the five Super Rugby franchises as well as the New Zealand Maori before the first Test back in Auckland and must face the Hurricanes in between Tests one and two.
Asked if the Lions could be beaten up by the time of the first Test of the three-game series with the All Blacks on June 24, Nacewa replied: “I think so.
“There is going to be a toll on players... they will be calling on a lot of players throughout the tour.
“Would I like to go down and play the Maori, the five New Zealand franchises and three Test matches in a row? No. It is going to be a brutal tour. It is going to be very different to what The Lions experienced in Australia (in 2013) and South Africa (2009) and New Zealand in 2005.
“They played Manawatu in 2005 and nearly scored 100 points. I think Hayden Triggs was playing in that game.
“They won every midweek game against what were the provinces then.
“Ronan O’Gara kicked a 45-metre goal from the sideline then to down us when I was playing for Auckland. We would have had a 10-year reunion for the rest of our lives if we had won that match. These franchises are going to be stacked with good high-quality players. That is going to be a difference in the tour alone.
“That is going to be very different to playing The Hurricanes, The Highlanders, The Chiefs, The Crusaders, teams that are on top of their game.
“What’s more exciting for me is when they play the five Super franchises. These are teams going to have their All Blacks released.
“The lowest point Blues team are higher than any Australian franchise at the moment. They are teams that can play. For me, they’re going to be the games to watch even more than the Test matches.”
As for the Tests, former Blues star Nacewa believes the outcome will be dependent on what combinations Warren Gatland opts for in a month’s time.
“Can they beat the All Blacks? Absolutely. It is just who is going to be in those pivotal positions. They’ve got the firepower to do it.
“They just need to find the right combinations to work.”
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