Tom Richards Cup - Australia v British & Irish Lions
Anglo-Celtic axis may fracture Lions - Hansen
ESPN Staff
June 21, 2013
Lions flanker Tom Croft races away to score a try, Waratahs v British & Irish Lions, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, June 15, 2013
Tom Croft is one of three Englishman in the starting XV © Getty Images

Long-held antagonism between English rugby and the Celtic nations may yet unhinge the British & Irish Lions, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen saying Lions coach Warren Gatland's biggest challenge through the three-Test series against Australia will be maintaining team harmony.

Hansen said the naming of the first Test team was a possible spark for unease after just three English players were named in the starting side for the first Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday - flanker Tom Croft, hooker Tom Youngs and prop Alex Corbisiero. The tourists have impressed Hansen, but the former Wales coach wonders how successful Gatland has been in melding them together off the field.

"In my experiences over in the UK, the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh fit in with each other but there's a little bit of a question mark around the English because the Celts versus the English is a historical thing," Hansen told NZ Newswire. "If Warren can manage to bring all four parties together, I think he'll have a really good side."

Hansen said team harmony have could have played a role in the selection of the Wallabies squad, in particular the omission of Quade Cooper's from the series.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans plumped for versatile outside back James O'Connor to wear No.10 in Brisbane, with Kurtley Beale named on the bench, and Hansen said his fellow New Zealander Deans may have lost patience with Cooper.

Hansen said the omission of Cooper was unfortunate as he's a "pretty handy" player when on-song, but "there's been a lot of other antics [since Rugby World Cup 2011] and they probably decided enough's enough".

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