British and Irish Lions 'strong enough' to beat New Zealand says Vern Cotter

Vern Cotter
The Kiwi coach is currently leading the Barbarians side on a two-match tour starting against England on Sunday.
British and Irish Lions 2017
Date: 3 June-8 July Venue: New Zealand
Coverage: Live text commentary on every match on the BBC Sport website and mobile app.

The British and Irish Lions have the power to beat New Zealand, according to former Scotland head coach Vern Cotter.

New Zealander Cotter, who was in charge of Scotland from 2014 to 2017, interviewed for the Lions position, narrowly missing out to Warren Gatland.

"I think they are strong enough to win," Cotter told BBC Radio 5 live.

"I think the player talent is there, I think the determination, desire and belief is there. I think they have a real chance," he added.

Cotter coached the Crusaders to Super Rugby titles in 2005 and 2006, before spells with Clermont Auvergne and Scotland in the northern hemisphere.

Vern Cotter
Vern Cotter led Super Rugby side Crusaders to successive Super Rugby titles in 2005 and 2006.

He feels the home nations have all made major strides since a disappointing Rugby World Cup in 2015.

"If you look at what has happened in northern hemisphere rugby since the World Cup - which I think was a bit of a wake-up call - the rugby has improved and they've used that disappointing World Cup to push through," he added.

"So now is an opportunity for northern hemisphere players to prove they can take the All Blacks - and I genuinely believe they can. They have the strength to do it, it's just going to be about how they negotiate those midweek games and the heavy-charged weeks they have before the Test matches. But they are certainly capable of winning."

However, with a punishing schedule awaiting the Lions, Cotter has warned they must prioritise the first Test match of the series over the warm-up games if they are to record only their second ever series win in New Zealand.

"The first Test match is key," Cotter continued.

"The coaching staff and the players will know they have to weave their way through some pretty important [warm up] games.

"If they get through the midweek games without getting too knocked around, then the All Blacks are probably at their most vulnerable in the first Test match of a series.

"But the Lions have to win the first couple of Test matches if they want to win the series. The last Test match - if it's a decider - then New Zealand are going to be up with the whole country behind them."

While Cotter says the Lions must have clarity and direction in terms of their game plan, he also feels they have the individual players to overcome the All Blacks.

Kieran Read
New Zealand captain Kieran Read announced his re-signing with the All Blacks and Crusaders on Wednesday.

"The strategies will I think be relatively simple, but they are a smart group of coaches," he said.

"There is enough power through the Lions team, whether it is midfield or second row. I think with [Maro] Itoje and [George] Kruis the Lions probably have anything as good as the All Blacks. I believe the scrum will put New Zealand under pressure, and I think there is enough depth in that Lions squad to have a powerful bench, and put pressure on New Zealand."

While the Lions have been dealt a hammer blow with Billy Vunipola's withdrawal from the tour, New Zealand have their own injury concerns, with number eight Kieran Read and flanker Jerome Kaino both doubts.

Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola injured his shoulder in Saracens' Premiership semi-final defeat to Exeter.

Cotter believes injuries "can go both ways", with the All Blacks also reliant on key players staying fit.

"The All Blacks are reliant on [number eight] Kieran Read, and they are reliant on [second row] Brodie Retallick," he said.

"Injuries can go both ways, and it will be interesting to see whether the All Blacks play their key players for their franchises beforehand. Steve Hansen said he was going to play them but he might change his mind.

"We saw [when New Zealand had] a weakened team a few months back, Ireland were able to take the win off them.

"Is the midfield going to be powerful enough to hold up the Lions? There are a whole lot of questions to be asked, and that's why it's such a fascinating series. It is a powerful Lions outfit going down there, and anything can happen."

Vern Cotter
Cotter left his post as Scotland head-coach following the 2017 Six Nations.

Before taking charge of Montpellier in France's Top 14 this summer, Cotter is leading a star-studded Barbarians side on their two match tour.

The legendary invitational side meet England at Twickenham on Sunday before facing Ulster next week.

"I haven't had to do a lot of coaching really," Cotter said.

"It's about putting some simple things in place. The players are really enjoying each other's company, and that's part of the Baabaas spirit.

"It's low-key, with not too much pressure, but it's about putting things in place so we have clarity on the field, and it's good fun."

You can hear more from Vern Cotter on 5 live Rugby from 20:00 BST on Thursday, 25 May.

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