Looking back on that fascinating draw at Eden Park, it certainly went against a lot of people’s predictions. Inevitably when the game gets to that stage around the 70-minute mark, the draw is always on the cards, even though there are so few in rugby that we never expect them.
The All Blacks are rarely beaten, let alone do they ending up drawing, because they score a lot of tries and points. Therefore it is to the Lions’ eternal credit how they dug in during the third Test.
They were hanging on by their fingernails in that first half after a wave of All Blacks chances. I would put that survival down to some of the Lions’ last-ditch defence as well as New Zealand squandering opportunities, but that kind of defence has been a hallmark of the Lions’ whole tour.
The longer you stay in the game the more your belief levels rise throughout the squad, and the supporters too.
The players would not readily accept a draw, after all they were there to win the series, but given how the odds were stacked against them with the schedule and lack of preparation, even though it is not a repeat of the victorious side of 1971, they have certainly achieved something momentous and worthy of recognition.
They will head home with a huge amount of respect and it has been a marvellous tour for lots of reasons. Given that they were only ahead for three out of the total of 240 minutes in the Test series, you have to say that they will be more pleased with the draw than the All Blacks.
Lots of people have said the outcome was disappointing, but I don’t feel that way at all. If you cannot split the sides after three games than that is the way it is. It was a reflection of how the Tests played out and a huge amount of credit must go to the Lions coaches and backroom staff for their tireless work, as well as the players.
Despite some ups and downs throughout the tour the squad remained positive and defiant. They stuck to their beliefs and it came off. A lot of people questioned the team selection, as they always do, but Warren Gatland stuck to his guns on a few things when lots of others were clamouring for change.
As a team they evolved their style of rugby, with nothing epitomising that more than that magical try in the first Test by Sean O’Brien.
Regarding talk that Gatland may lead the Lions for a third time in 2021, he knows what it takes to win and understands the concept very well after two tours as head coach.
It was a bit unfair to ask him in the immediate aftermath of the series, but naturally that happens. The big question is would Gatland by 2021 be in demand with the All Blacks? He is committed to Wales until the next Rugby World Cup, and then I am sure he will be exploring all his options.
On the basis of what he has achieved so far the Lions would be foolish to not talk to him. Then again, if the All Blacks come knocking on the door he would want to throw his hat into the ring for that job as well, along with a number of others in Vern Cotter and Joe Schmidt.
Thanks to Gatland and his players the Lions concept is alive and well, but moving forward what does need to be mapped out are the commercial arrangements, which were created in an era which feels like a long time ago. It seems slightly inequitable that the host union, this time New Zealand, pockets all the cash. That is not fair to the Lions or the clubs back home who supply the players.
The negotiations feel like a relic of the amateur era and rugby has come a long way since then, on and off the field.
Those agreements need to be mapped out, while the tours also need to fit into the new global season. Everybody is trying to shoehorn what they want into 12 months, which is not possible. Some parties will have to give a little bit.
The Six Nations is now seven weeks; who would have said that was possible before when the tournament was being played out across three months.
Nobody wants to say goodbye to it and the players have unequivocally shown what it means to them.
Every single player will come back as a better player and a better human being for that experience of being a Lion.
You only have to hear Maro Itoje’s post-match interview when he articulated the feeling, saying it had been the best eight weeks of his life. You cannot ask for any more than that.
For me it was right up there with winning the Rugby World Cup, if not better. It really is the best experience of your life.