British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has questioned the All Blacks' team selection for the first Test at Eden Park on Saturday.
Gatland has specifically referred to Rieko Ioane replacing Julian Savea, something he feels could come back to haunt All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
The inclusion of Ryan Crotty at inside centre ahead of Anton Lienert-Brown seems to also have encouraged Gatland, who also believes the Lions' bench is superior.
“I’m not sure looking at their bench that it is as strong as it has been in the past,” Gatland said, after naming Maro Itoje, the tour skipper Sam Warburton, the experienced Irish fly-half Johnny Sexton and Wales’s top goalkicker Leigh Halfpenny among his own replacements.
“We were surprised by Crotty being selected at 13 and Savea, who has been a constant for them, being replaced. I know how good Ioane is but this is a big game for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Gatland feels the All Blacks could potentially be undercooked, having tried to compensate for this with the one-off Test against Samoa last weekend.
“They went and arranged the Samoa game because they feel potentially they’re going to be a little bit undone,” Gatland said.
“How that helps their preparation I’m not too sure as they’ve been together for the last couple of weeks.”
In contrast the Lions have undergone thorough preparation.
“We’ve taken on an incredibly tough schedule, like nothing the Lions have ever faced,” Gatland said.
“Sometimes in the past, midweek teams have been a bit of a frolic but we’ve been tested all the way. In terms of the opposition, the preparation and the intensity of matches, it has been really beneficial.
“We think we are in a good place at the moment. We really think we have been improving week to week, we have stayed tight as a group and we haven’t let anything externally have an impact on us. We haven’t had any players moaning about anything – they’ve just got on with their jobs.”