Cape Town - British
and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has been impressed by the
form of New Zealand's sides in Super Rugby this season.
The Kiwi teams are again leading the way as a Conference this year, with the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders currently occupying playoff positions, despite a difficult schedule whereby they face each other more than teams from the other competing nations.
The Blues have also impressed, winning six of their 12 games to gather more points than the Australia and Africa 1 Conference pace-setters.
Looking ahead to the challenge of tackling the five franchises and also the Maori All Blacks, Gatland knows his charges face a difficult task.
"They are obviously playing very well, there is some outstanding rugby being played by the New Zealand teams in the way that they are dominating the competition," he told Press Association Sport ahead of a testing tour.
"We know how difficult they will be as opposition.
"A lot of those teams are going through transition in terms of the way they are defending.
"Teams are coming up particularly hard off the line, so we are just watching that pretty closely in terms of that transition at the moment.
"The way New Zealand sides have traditionally defended, there's a bit of a change in the way that they are doing that, but there is no doubt that they are playing some outstanding rugby and they are going to be tough prospects for us leading into the Test matches."