George North feels “the potential is pretty exciting” of a British and Irish Lions squad arriving for its six-week mission in New Zealand.
North and company were due to land in Auckland early on Wednesday, with the opening game of a demanding 10-match tour arriving just three days later.
The Lions’ only previous Test series triumph against New Zealand came 46 years ago, while their fixture schedule includes appointments with five Super Rugby sides, plus the Maori All Blacks.
It all reaches a climax with three Tests against the world champions, and Wales wing North, who starred for the triumphant Lions in Australia four years ago, is likely to be a key figure.
“I think the squad Gats (Lions head coach Warren Gatland ) has picked has got a mixture of that wide rugby with great skill-sets and speed, and there is also power and some serious force up front,” North told Press Association Sport.
“From a back’s point of view, that is all you can ask for – front-foot ball, and quick, as and when it comes, to go wide, wide.
“The potential is pretty exciting.”
North’s club Northampton were involved in two end-of-season European Champions Cup qualification play-offs earlier this month, which meant he was unavailable for both pre-tour Lions training camps in Wales and Ireland.
“It was strange,” he added. “You want to be present in all the camps to get yourself in the best position to learn your role as early as you can and understand the way that Gats wants to play.
“In 2013, I was there the whole time, and to have only been there for ‘messy Monday’ (Lions player administration day on May 8 ) and the day I fly, is completely different.
England coach Eddie Jones said the British and Irish Lions will “struggle” to beat the All Blacks in their three-Test series because of the tactics of their coach, Warren Gatland.
Jones said the Lions, who are expected to favour Gatland’s “Warrenball” approach of powerful, direct running, must win the first Test on June 24 or be prepared for a “tough old series”.
“It is going to be very tough for them mate,” Jones told the London Telegraph’s Full Contact podcast.
“They have picked a certain style of team based on the influence of the Welsh coaches. So I think they are looking to attack like Wales with big, gainline runners with not much ball movement.
“I think you struggle to beat the All Blacks like that.”
Gatland, who is Wales’s head coach, led the Lions to a 2-1 victory over Australia on their last tour in 2013.
The New Zealander has Wales’s Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins in his backroom staff, along with England’s Steve Borthwick, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree.
“The All Blacks are not only a physical contest, it is a big mental contest,” warned Jones, who orchestrated five wins over New Zealand when he was coach of Australia.
“You have to be very disciplined in the way you play, you’ve got to chip away at them.
“You’ve got to keep the pressure on, you’ve got to exert pressure in areas that they don’t like, which is traditionally the close set-piece play but then have the ability when you create opportunities, to turn that into points.
“Ireland did it really well and I think the Lions are going to struggle. If they win the first Test, they win the series. If they don’t, I think it might be a tough old series for them.”
Gatland has said he takes inspiration from Ireland’s shock victory over New Zealand in Chicago last year, which halted a world-record run of 18 straight victories.
Jones added that while Gatland’s Wales play to a “system”, his England side — who have won the last two Six Nations — “play much more with our eyes open” and try to stay alive to opportunities.
The Lions, whose only Test series victory in New Zealand was in 1971, arrive on Wednesday at the start of a nearly six-week tour.
England fly-half George Ford has warned the Six Nations champions to prepare for a “hostile” atmosphere when they travel to Argentina for a two-Test series next month.
Ford, along with several other players in the England squad, may have been overlooked for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand but he insisted there was no time for regrets ahead of a testing trip to South America.
With several first-choice players on Lions duty, England coach Eddie Jones has selected a mixture of experience hands and raw novices, with little in between, for the Argentina series.
Facing the Pumas will be a new experience for some members of a revamped England squad but not Ford.
“The one thing, playing with Argentinian players as well, and against them, they’re so passionate about the game that that’s the type of game you’re going to come up against,” Ford told AFP at England’s south coast training camp in Brighton.
“The fans are just (as) passionate and emotional as the players are, it’ll be hostile.
“On the pitch they’ll be physical, they get into you and they pride themselves on being physical, so it’s something we’ve got to be excited about and take that challenge front on.
“If you want to win any Test match these days you’ve probably got to win the physicality battle and the Argentinians are probably up there with the world’s best at that,” he added.
Ford, who is returning to Leicester from English Premiership rivals Bath in time for the start of the 2017/18 season, cited Pumas wing Horacio Agulla, now with French club Castres, as a case in point.
“I used to play with Horacio Agulla, at Leicester and Bath.
“He never looked like a massive winger by any stretch of the imagination, but he punched way above his weight, he used to fly into tackles, he used to fly into carries and I thought that summed Argentina up really, just go at everything 100 percent, be emotional and show that with their physicality.
“They’re obviously very nice guys off the pitch but they flick a switch on it.”