New Zealand waved goodbye to a number of their veterans after lifting the Rugby World Cup – but Dan Carter insists the All Blacks are as strong as ever ahead of The British & Irish Lions Tour next year.
Get every Lions announcement directly to your email!
The All Blacks lost a staggering 707 Test caps when former fly-half Carter, skipper Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Conrad Smith and Tony Woodcock retired from international duty after defeating Australia in last year’s final.
But the post-World Cup era under new skipper Kieran Read started impressively this summer after Wales fell to a 3-0 series defeat in New Zealand.
Into the Lions den
The All Blacks have just two more challenges – next month’s Rugby Championship and the Autumn internationals in Europe – before they come face to face with the Lions next summer.
And now watching on from the sidelines, Carter expects New Zealand to go from strength to strength.
"I was extremely impressed but it's what I expected. They're such a formidable outfit," the 34-year-old told TVNZ.
"All the talk of the players leaving, they were an experienced enough group with the same coaching staff.
"I knew they were just going to continue from the success at the World Cup.
"All the young guys stepped up and I've become a huge fan now. I can sit back and watch them and have really enjoyed the style of play in June."
Super Rugby success
New Zealand domestic rugby is also in fine health with the Highlanders and Hurricanes already in the Super Rugby semi-finals, while the Crusaders and Chiefs could join them on Saturday.
Carter’s former team, the Crusaders, must first negotiate the Lions in Johannesburg.
And Carter added: "It's not easy having to travel to Jo'burg in such a short time frame but it's an interesting competition and here's hoping we can get four New Zealand sides in the semis.
"That'll be great to watch."