New Zealand coach Graham Henry has rejected suggestions the British & Irish Lions will be any weaker because of England’s recent poor form.
Less than two years ago, a Lions Test XV would have been built around a core of Englishmen, but a combination of injuries and retirements has seen the world champions slide to sixth in the rankings.
But with Wales and Ireland setting the pace in the RBS 6 Nations and the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Richard Hill and Mike Tindall pressing to be fit for the tour, Henry still expects Sir Clive Woodward’s 44-strong Lions squad to be a formidable unit.
"It surprises me that all that depth of talent in England hasn’t come through onto the international scene," said Henry.
"I guess you have to expect that. It takes time to bed in. But I am surprised England have not played well, especially against Wales.
"Against France they were the better side and should have won the game by 20 points.
"If Wilkinson had been playing they would have won.
"The England side are starting again and some players who haven’t been available for England will tour with the Lions.
"I am sure Clive will be disappointed with some of the form being shown but we still expect a very strong Lions side – there is no doubt about that when you pick from four nations. Ireland, Wales and England are very strong.
"Whether they can pull it all together is the big question but as far as personnel are concerned it will be an extremely strong side as always.
"There will be a good balance with a number from England, Wales and Ireland and a smattering from Scotland."