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Fitzpatrick: Lions have strongest possible team

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    21 Apr 2017     Getty Images

Fitzpatrick was speaking on the All Blacks live Facebook show Feed the Backs.

He said, "A reflection for me of how good it [the Lions team] is, is the players who have missed out. Somebody like Joe Launchbury was probably the best second rower in the Six Nations, he missed out, Garry Ringrose from Ireland was quite outstanding.

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"This is a very competitive team and he has been very smart Warren Gatland in terms of the team he has picked. He's picked a team that will be hugely competitive on the field but I think touring New Zealand he's got a team that New Zealanders will like."

This was important he said because when the New Zealand public was against a side, like it was in 2005, it made it 'hugely difficult' for the side to perform at their best.

He thought the selection of Jared Payne ahead of Ringrose was important for two reasons, he had been in a team that had beaten the All Blacks and he was also from New Zealand.

"He'll be able to explain to the guys around him what it will take to win," he said.

Fitzpatrick said the Lions were less likely to play the attritional physicality type of game of the past and they were looking to be more expansive.

"If you had asked me 12 months ago if this Lions team had any show of beating the All Blacks I would have said no show at all," he said.

But he said having just seen one of the best Six Nations tournaments he had ever seen, the influence of Joe Schmidt, Vern Cotter and Eddie Jones had resulted in a change in the style of rugby they were playing. They still had the physical presence and were developing, without finalising, their skill sets to match the All Blacks.

"I think you saw that in Chicago last year," he said. And the likes of CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien, Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton were the players who didn't make a lot of mistakes but they carried the ball and that was a big thing," he said.

When the Vunipolas were thrown into the mix there was a degree of competitiveness about the side.

Fitzpatrick said Gatland's choice of Sam Warburton as captain reflected the relationship the pair had, but also was down to the fact that Warburton had been to New Zealand recently [last year with Wales].

"I talked with Sam Warburton yesterday and he said it was hugely important that the whole team realised what they were going into," he said.