Super Rugby sides can call on All Blacks stars for Lions fixtures
Gruelling schedule made tougher with Test players set to feature in warm-up games
An under-strangth Wales were thrashed by the Waikato Chiefs during their summer tour to New Zealand. Photograph: Getty
The British and Irish Lions have been warned their Super Rugby opponents on next summer’s tour to New Zealand will be allowed to select their All Blacks.
A brutal schedule has been made yet more onerous with the news that the Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders will be “loaded up” with players expected to feature for the world champions in the Test series.
In recent history, internationals have been rested to keep them fresh to face the Lions over the three Tests that conclude the tour, but selector Grant Fox insists New Zealand will adopt a different approach for 2017.
“The Super Rugby sides will be loaded up with All Blacks early because there’s a bit of time from game one to the first Test,” Fox told the New Zealand Herald.
“They need to play and then as we get closer to the Tests some of those franchises will have less access to the All Blacks as we start preparing for the series.”
The tour comprises of five fixtures against Super Rugby sides with the Chiefs and Hurricanes completing the list, matches against a provincial union team and the New Zealand Maori and three Tests.
Warren Gatland, who is set to be unveiled as the Lions’ head coach in Edinburgh on Wednesday, said of the itinerary in January: “It’s not un-winnable, but it’s a very, very tough schedule”.
Adding to the challenges facing Gatland is the timing of the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12 finals seven days before the opening fixture in Whangarei on June 3rd.
Gatland led Wales on tour to New Zealand in June and returned home with a 3-0 series defeat and 40-7 midweek rout by the Chiefs.
“Any tour of New Zealand is going to be challenging because we’ve got real talent and depth here,” Fox said.
“It will be tough for them, but the difference is Wales were down to their mid-week team and you’d think a mid-week British and Irish Lions team would be stronger than Wales.”