The 2017 British and Irish Lions tour starts on June 3, with a team that has high hopes of beating the All Blacks and a Kiwi coach to boot. Gregor Paul sets the scene.

The Lions have become a big ticket item and their tour to New Zealand this winter, which will begin in 100 days, is being touted as a bigger event than the 2011 World Cup.

It is a stretch to see it in those terms, but then again, an estimated 30,000 Brits are heading out and by the time the tests kick off in late June, it's expected that Auckland and Wellington will have been turned red.

The All Blacks are braced for the curious sensation of running out at Eden Park and being jeered by a home crowd that has more Lions fans than it does Kiwis.

But that's how it has been on the last two Lions tours - to Australia in 2013 and South Africa in 2009. The Lions come, they see and they conquer in terms of taking over venues.


Only occasionally do they conquer on the field, though, and in New Zealand, only once.

New Zealand has not been a happy hunting ground for the Lions. They have managed to win just one series, in 1971, and as a result of their difficulties, have come to see New Zealand as the ultimate testing ground.

It's a special business as it is for Britain and Ireland's best player to make the Lions - but to make the Lions when they come to New Zealand, that is the ultimate honour.

Beating the All Blacks in New Zealand remains the greatest challenge in world rugby and this Lions team are coming fully aware of the history and the quality of the side they will be playing.

Coached by the enigmatic Warren Gatland, himself a Kiwi with an ingrained knowledge of what makes his native country tick, the Lions are confident they have a reasonable chance this time.

Northern Hemisphere rugby is enjoying a renaissance of sorts - they have skilled players these days and the current Six Nations competition has produced a number of epic encounters.

But many teams have come to New Zealand full of hope and confidence only to have their dreams crushed.

The Lions may well be a good side, but so too are the All Blacks and a handful of great players such as Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg have been waiting a long time for their chance to take on the Lions.


All Blacks coach Steve Hansen

Hansen has just about a full set of coaching achievements. He's coached the All Blacks to a World Cup victory, taken them on a world record 18-test run, won the Rugby Championship four times and been world coach of the year four times. He was the All Blacks assistant coach in 2005 when New Zealand beat the Lions 3-0 and he'd dearly love to do the same now that he has at the helm. He is building one of the more impressive coaching legacies - having only lost four tests in four years - and he needs a series win to strengthen his claim of being one of the best leaders in the professional era.

Lions coach Warren Gatland

The former All Black has become the most experienced test coach in world rugby and recognised as one of the sharpest brains in the game. He's clever, innovative and determined to return to his home land as a winner. He's as good as Hansen at throwing out cutting one liners and poking the opposition through the media. He led the Lions to a series victory against Australia in 2013 but knows the challenge of doing the same in New Zealand is significantly harder.


Key All Black - Kieran Read

The All Blacks skipper faces his toughest challenge since taking on the job last year.
A three-test series against the Lions will see Read and the All Blacks come under the most intense media scrutiny for six weeks. Not only that, but the Lions are likely to bring a talented squad with enough ability to be confident about winning the test series.

Can Read inspire his side to another level of performance? Can he be the calming voice that his young side will need in what could be a cauldron of pressure? Adding to the intrigue is that he will possibly win his 100th cap in the third test of the series. It looms as a huge test of the captain's standing and character.

Key Lion - Owen Farrell

The Lions are coming with confidence and ambition and a new found belief that their collective skills are not so far behind New Zealand's. But for all that they will want to run the ball and attack, the reality is that their chances are heavily dependent on the goal-kicking of Owen Farrell. The English midfielder has become one of the most reliable kickers in the world game and has been a huge contributor in England's current unbeaten run of 16 tests. But he faces a huge test of nerve as his accuracy in front of goal will be a huge weapon for the Lions.


Saturday June 3 v Provincial Union XV, Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Wednesday June 7 v Blues, Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday June 10 v Crusaders, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Tuesday June 13 v Highlanders, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Saturday June 17 v NZ Maori, Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
Tuesday June 20 v Chiefs, FMG Stadium Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
Saturday June 24 v All Blacks, Eden Park, Auckland
Tuesday June 27 v Hurricanes, Westpac Park, Wellington
Saturday July 1 v All Blacks, Westpac Park, Wellington
Saturday July 8 v All Blacks, Eden Park, Auckland