Three-time British & Irish Lion Matt Dawson believes that the 2017 crop that head to New Zealand will be the best squad ever assembled in the tourists’ proud history.
Head Coach Warren Gatland will not select his playing squad to take on the All Blacks until the end of the 2016/17 season but northern hemisphere rugby is in rude health of late.
Click here to buy your brand new Lions jersey from the Official Store
Ireland claimed their first-ever win over the All Blacks in Chicago ten days ago while England remain unbeaten under Eddie Jones – ten games and counting – and took down South Africa on Saturday.
Scotland ran Australia extremely close – the second time in the last year that they have been edged out by a solitary point by the Wallabies – and Wales beat Rugby World Cup semi-finalists Argentina on Saturday in Cardiff.
The All Blacks head to Dublin this weekend looking for revenge but Dawson believes the world champions’ aura of invincibility has now shifted.
And with the four home nations brimming with confidence, the scrum-half sees no reason why the Lions cannot head to New Zealand next year and return with a first Test series victory since 1971.
“The (Ireland) win over in Chicago was a massive boost for northern hemisphere rugby and certainly for the Lions because they were playing New Zealand,” said the World Cup winner.
“It’s a massive fillip for Irish and British rugby, but it just puts a seed of doubt in the All Blacks.
“They will bounce back from it, of course they will. But they will realise that come the Lions next year, this is not just going to be like any other year, or like the 2005 Tour for that matter.
“This is a brand new Tour, I think we will take down the best and most competitive Lions squad ever – I truly believe that.
“For the first time in many years, 30 or 40 years, we will have the squad that the rugby world will feel genuinely have a chance of beating the All Blacks.”
But while Dawson is confident that, on paper, this will be the strongest Lions squad that has ever left these shores – that is no guarantee of success.
The team of rivals must come together as a united playing squad and Gatland’s first challenge is to help foster a special bond amongst Lions.
“It is a very special club to be a part of and one I am very proud of,” added Dawson – who beat the then World Champion Springboks back in 1997.
“It is one of the very unique things about the Lions, I don’t think any other sport quite computes what that is all about.
“The common denominator is the Lions, the red jersey, the history and the tradition that you grew up with.
“The moment you walk into camp, the coach doesn’t need to say that you park your England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland rivalries – you already know that.
“You want to play with the best players in the home nations, that is what you aspire to do – that’s why you want to be a Lion because you want to be seen as the best of the best.
“It was never something I consciously thought about.”