Warren Gatland, his assistants and the players, particularly the captain Sam Warburton, should be applauded for how they developed and performed as a team against all odds
The Lions did us proud and I’m sure the British and Irish public will agree the tourists certainly deserved to share the Test series with New Zealand.
Considering all the flak they received when they arrived in the country, and the unjustified and completely out of order vitriol that poured in the direction of Warren Gatland, it was a remarkable accomplishment.
Coach Gatland, his assistants and the players, particularly the captain Sam Warburton, should be applauded for how they developed and performed as a team against all odds.
They played a major part in a fantastic Test series with, I stress, the All Blacks still the team to beat in world rugby.
Steve Hansen’s men have won back-to-back World Cups and are the benchmark for every country on the planet.
But any thoughts of invincibility surrounding them have been slightly tarnished by the unbelievable defence, organisation and determination of the Lions players.
They showed New Zealand can be beaten and I would like to think the respective coaches of the home countries, including Gatland when he returns to his day job with Wales, will be relishing the thought of taking them on during the autumn internationals.
It’s such a shame that Eddie Jones’ back-to-back Six Nations champions England don’t face the All Blacks until late next year.
I feel it’s a great pity a number of seasons will have passed before rugby’s two current leading countries meet.
New Zealand will come to Cardiff in November fired up to prove a point against Wales but Gatland and his charges can look forward to facing them.
So many of his Welsh players who have been with the Lions, whether they played in the Test series or not, can take confidence from the trip with their reputations enhanced.
Warburton was excellent, not only as the figurehead of the squad, but by the manner in which he overcame injury to shine in the two Tests he started while the warrior that is Alun Wyn Jones relished the battle at lock with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick. Taulupe Faletau again proved he is the genuine article at No.8 during a fascinating duel with New Zealand skipper Kieran Read.
Behind the scrum, centre Jonathan Davies has played beven etter rugby than he did during the Lions conquest of Australia four years ago.
The quality of his play, his energy and ability to read the game has been outstanding during this Test series and there’s certainly something special about him when it comes to wearing the red of the Lions.
Full-back Liam Williams had an up and down series by his standards but we will remember the run out of defence in the opening Test that led to a spectacular try, one which has to be in the top 10 scored by the Lions in history.
I was fortunate to be part on the Lions team which beat the All Blacks in 1971 and there was an uncanny similarity between the final Test of that tour and this.
We went to Eden Park that time 2-1 up in it and drew the match 14-14, which was good enough to give us that series.
In many ways it’s a pity there’s not another Test to decide the outcome of this series but, when you take into account the workload of the players, a share of the spoils seems fair.
Gatland and Hansen would have probably shaken hands and congratulated each other on a series which was balanced on a knife-edge and captured the imagination of the public.
The other thing which came out of it is the importance of the Lions surviving. It means so much to former players and I’m sure the current squad.
The public voted with their feet with an estimated 25,000 embarking on the journey to New Zealand. If that’s not a potent message to the governors of British and Irish rugby I don’t know what is.
Supporters, players and coaches, not only of the Lions but in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, would be horrified if the curtain was drawn on them.
It would be a sad day for rugby and sport in general. This tour showed what it meant to both teams and was summed up by the sportsmanship and camaraderie on both sides after the final whistle.
That’s what makes the Lions and rugby so special. Long may it continue!
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