Steve Hansen has rejected Warren Gatland’s claim there is little difference between New Zealand’s Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks after naming his squad to take on the British and Irish Lions.
Head coach Hansen has picked two uncapped players in Hurricanes pair Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett in a 33-man party, but used his squad announcement to take a swipe at Gatland following the comments he made in the wake of the Lions’ 22-16 defeat to the Blues at Eden Park.
Hansen said: “I just think Warren was trying a bit of humour after struggling a wee bit with his press conference before. I don’t think there’s any comparison between Super Rugby and Test rugby.
“I’ve always said this and I still believe it, this is the best Lions side to come here. But to be arriving on the Wednesday and playing on the Saturday is just too tough, we wouldn’t do it.”
Less than 24 hours after Gatland’s Lions suffered the first defeat of their 10-match tour, Hansen gave them a taste of things to come.
Laumape and Barrett are the new faces in an experienced squad which includes the injured forward trio of Kieran Read, Dane Coles and Jerome Kaino.
Read’s recovery from a broken thumb means he should be fit for the first Lions Test, while Kaino is expected to play against Samoa a week on Friday.
Hansen said his decision to select Coles was down to “semantics”, with the all-action hooker unlikely to feature in the Test series as he continues to struggle with concussion.
Barrett is joined by his brothers, lock Scott and fly-half Beauden, in Hansen’s party, making them the first sibling trio to be selected in the same All Blacks squad.
Number eight Read is captain, with five extra players named as injury cover. There are no places for Nehe Milner-Skudder, Malakai Fekitoa or Liam Messam.
Hansen said: “This was the hardest squad we have ever had to pick, there were some really tough decisions because there are some guys who are in great form who have missed out.
“We see the next four matches as a way to measure where we’re going. We’re always seeking to take our game to the next level. We have a mindset that we’re never standing still and we’re going to face a high-paced, intensity game against the Lions. It’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
Defeat to the Blues – statistically New Zealand’s worst side – has left many in doubt whether the Lions can compete with the All Blacks.
Hansen, however, believes Gatland’s team will be primed for the three Tests.
He said: “They’re in the infancy of this tour, they’ll only get better, and they’ll be a good side when the Tests come round. It’s well documented they only want to win the Test matches and Gatland has made that very, very clear. I don’t think he’s too bothered about what happens between now and then.
“We won’t be foolish enough to rock up and think we can just expect a soft game. We’ll get the kitchen sink thrown at us.”