Now the British & Irish Lions have named their touring side, the event itself appears much closer and it will not surprise me to see the contenders for places in the All Blacks side start to make their presence felt in Super Rugby.
We haven't seen the best of the All Blacks players in Super Rugby this season. But they're quite shrewd. The tour has been built up and built up, and they've known what is coming for the past 12 months. They're each just timing their run, and I think the All Blacks over the next couple of weeks will really step up a gear for their Super Rugby teams. I'm sure the All Blacks management have been tapping guys on the shoulder and telling them to stay settled and to wait; they won't want them letting their ammunition off too early.
Looking at the All Blacks, if you were choosing the side now, you would have to start with T.J. Perenara at halfback. He has been brilliant this season, and he is the incumbent. And on the side of the scrum, you would have to start with Ardie Savea based on form at the moment. They would be the only two changes I would see from the side we have been used to -- at this stage.
So to the Lions' selection, which was never going to be easy or to please everyone.
The choice of Jamie George over Dylan Hartley is interesting. I heard former All Blacks star Nick Evans, who plays now in the Aviva Premiership, say that George was better but would miss out because Hartley was the England captain who led the Six Nations champions very well. It's very much like the situation Chris Robshaw once found himself in with England and the Lions: Do you select a player for their leadership or on talent? There's so much leadership in the Lions squad, however, that Warren Gatland and the selectors don't need more of what is already there en masse.
I think Hartley's lack of discipline through his career has cost him because he risked being a liability; with his track record and some of the things he's done, he has brought this non-selection on himself. A player who is ill-disciplined can unbalance a side. A yellow card is hard enough, but a red card means all of a sudden means your campaign is over.
Ireland travelled to New Zealand in 2010, when there was a red card within the first 10 minutes and it was game over. The Lions can't afford to have that happen. Discipline is going to be huge.
Looking at some of the selections, I'm glad they went with Jonathan Joseph in midfield. He showed against Scotland that he was just absolutely brilliant. I know he's been hot and cold in-between, but he's going to be someone the Lions can build a game plan around if he can recapture some of that Scotland form.
It's interesting to me that they've named Owen Farrell as a midfielder. He still gives Gatland an option at first five-eighths if he proves the best in that role, but, if necessary, the coach still has the option to play him at second five-eighths.
If Farrell is named in the midfield, does that give us some insight into the way Gatland wants the Lions to play the game? I think that would be a mistake because they have to pick the best players in their positions to start the Test matches.
Again, it is the style of game you want to bring. Do you want to play the "attacking" style against the All Blacks or do you want to bring the sort of "defensive" game that Johnny Sexton brought for Ireland in Chicago last year? It is going to be a healthy selection debate.
The choice of Sam Warburton as captain, I guess, is down to loyalty. There's one thing about Warren Gatland -- that he trusts his lieutenants around him -- and Warburton is clearly one of those players in whom he has every confidence. As head coach, Gatland has every right to say, "This is the guy I entrust to do the job". There'll be grizzles and moans but at the end of the day Sam Warburton knows that he's got Warren's back and Warren has his; that's what you want in a tight group.
Joe Launchbury's omission was probably down to a case of numbers. There has been a lot of grizzles that he missed out, but it is really a case of where he fell in the pecking order. It's not that he's not good enough -- he most certainly is -- but there's players in his position where you can argue either way and he is just a casualty of selection. I'm sure he'll be first cab off the rank if the Lions suffer injuries. And that's not such a bad thing because there are always injuries on tours and SOS's are never far away. Simon Shaw and Ryan Jones missed out last time the Lions travelled to New Zealand, in 2005, but both ended up playing in Test matches.
There's a lot of grit in their front-row options, and the Lions will test the All Blacks there; that will be an area, knowing Warren Gatland's mentality, where he'll want to take on the All Blacks up front. The scrum is going to be very important.
The Lions will want to be dominant over the All Blacks in any area they can, and they will look to start in the scrum. They'll put a lot of work into that to challenge the All Blacks there. There will not be an inch given either way come the Test matches, but we can rest assured that both sides will be focusing on their scrums.
The All Blacks do have an advantage in their tight forwards with superior ball skills, especially in the front-row, and that helps them play their style of game. The Lions were flattering in their views on second-rows Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock when announcing their squad, but those locks are not alone; the All Blacks have some good deputies as well, and the Lions will need to be right up with the play in their skills up front. Overall, I think the All Blacks can certainly hold their own against the Lions' forward pack.
Out back, we've never seen the best of George North in New Zealand. He has promised so much, and I wonder if this could be a big series for him. But Julian Savea has been looking good this year, and that battle, if it eventuates, should be one of several good contests in the backlines.
I was delighted to see Jared Payne claim a place in the side, as I know how hard he has worked at his rugby. He is as good as Israel Dagg and Ben Smith, but he was never going to get the chance while they were available for New Zealand; that's why he opted to go overseas. He has played well for Ireland, and he could develop into an important player on the tour.