Where do the All Blacks stand as they prepare to welcome the Lions next summer?
New Zealand won the last series 3-0 in 200512:33 Saturday 3 December 2016, 12:33 3 Dec 2016
With just over six months left until the Lions arrive in All Black country, we look at where the World Champions stand as they prepare for rugby's biggest tour.
After defending their world title and becoming the first country to retain the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks lost a host of legends to either retirement or overseas ventures. The likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu are no longer in contention to wear an international jersey.
However the production line down south keeps churning them out. Captain Kieran Read has overseen an almost seamless overhaul with Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett and Ryan Crotty, to name just a few, stepping into the void.
The World Champions picked up where they left off in England in 2015 – sweeping Wales 3-0 in their June test series while winning six from six in the Rugby Championship as well as retaining the Bledisloe Cup against Australia.
They set a new 18 straight test win record only to come unstuck against an under-strength Irish side in Chicago.
Aura of invincibility quashed
Had the All Blacks won all their games on their northern hemisphere tour, the Lions would have landed in the land of the long white cloud starring down the barrel of another “blackwash”.
Instead Ireland’s unlikely victory has given hope to Warren Gatland’s squad that what appeared impossible is now just unlikely. Beating New Zealand once is difficult, beating them twice in a short space of time is another conundrum altogether, as Ireland found out.
England’s current impressive form coupled with Ireland’s upward trajectory have given a new lease of life to an already expectant rugby public that the World Champions can be pushed to the brink.
New Zealand don’t have another test match scheduled until the first game of the series next June but they do have the luxury of watching the touring party knock lumps out of each other, either domestically or internationally, for the next 6 months.
They previously promised to load the super rugby teams with All Blacks to give the tourists the toughest possible expedition but whether that happens now will be anyone’s guess.
Heading to Australia in 2013 captain Sam Warburton said the aim was to win every game on tour. Whoever is captain next year need only win two test matches to cement the squad’s place in history.
The rugby world awaits.
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