Will Lions face All Blacks in Test build-up?
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The British and Irish Lions, still licking their wounds from a disappointing opening tour match, are waiting anxiously to see how steep the challenge will get in the build-up to the Tests.
Lions coach Warren Gatland put up a brave face when he played down the poor showing in a 13-7 win over The New Zealand Provincial Barbarians side in Whangarei at the weekend - a performance for which they copped strident flak.
However, with a series of matches against the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises - starting with the Blues in Auckland on Wednesday and the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday - the question is just how many All Blacks will feature in these encounters?
All Black coach Steve Hansen will name his 33-man squad - for the Tests series - only on Thursday.
Blues coach Tana Umaga will name his team to face the Lions on Monday and he would be hoping to field as many of his All Black players as possible.
Players like Charlie Faumuina, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane are all in line for All Blacks squad.
Not all of them will make it, but they could put down a big marker for the All Blacks if they are allowed to play for the Blues in midweek.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said he is confident the All Black coach, Hansen, will allow him to pick his fit internationals for the game against the Lions on Saturday.
"They [the players] have said all year they would love to play, are keen to play," Robertson told stuff.co.nz.
"Sometimes it is best to keep your rhythm, and we have got that at the moment," Robertson said of his team's unbeaten run in Super Rugby.
"So they are all available."
Midfielder Ryan Crotty, who suffered rib cartilage damage late in the second half of the epic 25-22 win over the Highlanders at the weekend, has joined All Blacks captain Kieran Read (broken thumb) on the list of wounded men.
"Hopefully it is only a couple of weeks," Robertson said in reference to Crotty's unavailability.
It is hoped another All Black, lock Scott Barrett, will be fit to play for the Crusaders after missing the last three games because of knee and ankle injuries.
Most importantly, All Black lock Sam Whitelock is expected to lead the Crusaders side to face the British and Irish Lions in Christchurch.