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Comment: It’s not arrogance but New Zealanders are expecting a 10-0 sweep of the Lions

The Guardian logo The Guardian 2/06/2017 Nick Evans

All Black captain Kieran Read. © Michael Bradley/Getty Images All Black captain Kieran Read. The Lions may have received a warm welcome at Auckland airport this week but make no mistake, New Zealanders have 100% confidence that the tour will finish 10-0 in their favour. I cannot see that happening but it is not cockiness, it is just the expectation we have.

I felt it when I played for the All Blacks, when I played for Otago against the Lions in 2005, and I feel it as a fan now, you expect them to win. The Super Rugby teams are exactly the same – it doesn’t matter if it’s school level, or all the way to the All Blacks, it is not arrogance, it is just a level of expectation to do the job and get the results. There will be a bit of pressure on the New Zealand boys because of that but that’s nothing they won’t be used to. They’ve had it all their lives growing up.

But the Lions should win their first two games – against the New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday and then the Blues – and that will kickstart the tour for them. The noises from the visiting camp are that they don’t mind losing a few of the tour matches and the Tests are all that matter. I can understand why they say that but winning is a habit. Deep down Gats [coach Warren Gatland] will want to win everything. He is very keen to make sure he doesn’t isolate anyone from the tour, not do what Graham Henry did in 2001, saying this is my Test side and this is the others. I think that’s the perfect way of going about it but winning breeds confidence and in-house I think they’ll be saying they want to go unbeaten.

In 2005, they won all their tour matches but then lost to the Maoris. The whole of New Zealand was rocking when they turned the tourists over and I firmly believe that put a massive dent in the Lions. It was a wet old night but the Maoris fronted up and beat them all over the place. That put the Test side halfway towards doing what they did.

But I expect the Lions to beat the Provincial Barbarians well. In a way it’s no-win – if they hammer them the media will say, ‘well they should have done’ and if it’s close then all of a sudden the anxiety will be there. But they just need to get the win and build confidence.

The team the Lions will play have only been together for a week and they are sparkies, brickies, labourers. There are a few who have played a bit of Super Rugby but it’ll be like when they played against provincial sides in 2005 – semi-professionals or academy players. If you wanted a comparison in England, it would be Anglo-Welsh Cup players or A League. Young guys coming through who maybe get into the Premiership side every now and then.

And I like the team that Gats has picked. You have the experience – [Sam] Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones and [Johnny] Sexton are starting – then you have [Kyle] Sinckler, [Ross] Moriarty and [Ben] Te’o. They will be a bit jet-lagged but it helps that they don’t have to sit around waiting for a couple of weeks – it is into Auckland then, boom, straight into Wharangei for the first game.

By the time we get to the Test matches I expect the Lions will try to make it very set-piece orientated. They will have a real go at the New Zealand tight five. They will sense weakness there, especially with Dane Coles being injured. At the scrum, they will have a go and back themselves to have a better bench and that could be very important.

You’ve got Te’o and [Robbie] Henshaw so you can go route one – send traffic down [Beauden] Barrett’s channel and whoever is playing 12 and nine. Make them make tackles again and again. I know what it’s like as a 10, if you’re making 10-15 tackles a game it does take the sting out of your attack.

Then you have the ability to bring on players like [Anthony] Watson, [Jonathan] Joseph, [Jack] Nowell, [Liam] Williams, [Elliot] Daly – if [Owen] Farrell starts at 10, move him out to 12, another distributor to get the ball wider and move the ball. Early on they need to be nice and direct – make New Zealand make tackles, get over the gainline, force the ruck, be unbelievably physical at the ruck and go again. But then with 30 minutes to go, have the ability to bring these guys on and move the ball wide. Get it into [Stuart] Hogg’s hands – the best fullback in the Six Nations.

I’ve always said that the All Blacks will win 3-0 but I think it’ll be a lot more competitive than people think – nothing like 2005. The excitement is growing over there but it’s a weird scenario this week because it’s the last round of Super Rugby before the break for the tour. The media coverage will be a bit split in that sense but it will slowly build and build. Already they are talking about coming up with a song to ‘out roar’ the Lions and once they start playing the Super Rugby teams the sense of anticipation is going to grow. It only happens every 12 years but even most of the kids will know about the Lions. It’s ingrained in their blood, this special team coming down from the north.

Nick Evans was fly-half for the All Blacks and Harlequins – he retired from the game last month, age 36

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