John, the individual star of the only Lions side to win a series in New Zealand, told Wales on Sunday that six weeks of the toughest schedule any side has faced in the professional era lay ahead of the team.
Injuries would take their toll as games came thick and fast and there would be little time establish key Test combinations.
For all that the personnel were definitely in the side but it was a case of adopting the right game plan and getting selection right.
Tours didn’t come any bigger than New Zealand, John said. It wasn’t only a challenge for the Lions but the New Zealand public were aware of how important it was.
Dramatic changes had occurred in the sporting world: cricket was dominated by Twenty20 and One-Day Internationals, the Premier League had more sway than international football and Britons, rather than Americans, were dominating heavyweight boxing.
“But Down Under one thing has remained constant – every youngster dreams of wearing the famous black jersey. And they regard the Lions as the ultimate scalp.
“It would have made sense for Steve Hansen to quit after leading his side to their World Cup triumph over the Wallabies a couple of years back. But such is the draw and strength of the Lions, he wants to coach a team that beats them. That’s why he has stayed in the job, this is the appeal of a New Zealand versus best of Britain and Ireland showdown,” John said.
It was because of the success of the 1971 side that New Zealand had changed its style of play, he said.
“That is the reason they are the world’s best today. They mix physical power with audacity, cunning, creativity and a willingness to run in the backline.”
New Zealand had been playing a power game at the time, dominated by 10-man rugby. New Zealand changed, however, and now they were the side everyone looked to copy, John said.
“Whenever a rule changed comes in, they adapt quicker than anybody else. If another team looks like catching them up, they kick on again with new innovations and ploys.
“They are the modern-day masters. Double World Cup winners and, it seems capable of sweeping away any obstacle put in front of them.
“When Dan Carter retired everyone thought that was it for this generation. Yet Beauden Barrett has come in and, if anything, offered an even greater dimension to the back division. He is a beautiful runner.
“Israel Dagg, Julian Savea and Ben Smith form a wonderfully enthralling back three. If the Lions kick to them as poorly as Wales did last summer, they will be punished.
“They still have the power up front, but they mix it with pace and daring behind. They are a joy to watch,” John said.