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Tuesday 25 July 2017

This was special show from Lions insists Gatland

Coach is open to leading the tour to South Africa in 2021

Jonathan Sexton in action for the Lions against new Zealand during the third test at Eden Park in Auckland. Pic: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton in action for the Lions against new Zealand during the third test at Eden Park in Auckland. Pic: Sportsfile

Say what you want about Warren Gatland, the man has a sense of humour.

The New Zealand Herald painted the caricature of the Lions coach as a 'clown' after the first test at which time the forecasted 3-0 whitewash looked next to guaranteed.

Gatland had his revenge in Auckland on Saturday night when walking into the post-match press conference wearing a red clown nose.

"It was my idea," he said, when asked about where the notion came from.

"I had it last week (after the second test), but I didn't think it was the right time to wear it."

It was striking how, in a packed-out press conference, there could only be one or two voices heard to laugh out loud. Some are great at dishing it out; not so great at taking it.

The coach, on the other hand, showed in New Zealand how he is still willing to learn and, above all else, change even his core principles on the game.

The decision to go for his best, most intelligent out-half took him almost all of the tour.

Gamble

By the time, he took a gamble on the Jonathan Sexton-Owen Farrell axis, it was nearly too late.

In fairness, Sexton began the tour a million miles away from top-form and played his way into it.

"Given how schedule, given how tough the tour was, to come to New Zealand and draw the series, you've got to be pretty proud of that," said Gatland.

"If you said, six weeks ago, come to New Zealand and draw the series, you would probably take that.

"We've learned a heck of an amount on this tour from the quality of opposition that we've played.

"That's because we've been really tested and pushed and we've learned."

It all came down to the penalty that wasn't when referee Romain Poite ruled Ken Owens' instinctive touch to a breaking ball was initially ruled a shot at goal for the All Blacks.

Here, Gatland had a slightly dubious opinion on the incident in which Kieran Read challenged Liam Williams in the air.

He reckoned the New Zealand captain was not in a position to challenge Williams.

Any reasonable review of the high-flying contest would deem this untrue.

However, on closer inspection of the replay, the ball clearly broke backwards, rather than forward, and should never have been blown.

Either way, French referee Poite went to The Match Official for video evidence for the penalty or accidental offside, for a scrum.

"In fairness, to the man next to me (Sam Warburton), he has been quite smart and astute and been able to talk the referee from a penalty into an accidental offside.

"We would have been devastated as a group if we had lost the game from that kick-off."

It marked just the second time the Lions have drawn a series to match the 1955 outcome in South Africa.

It did leave a sense of unfinished business about the six weeks of vitriol, entertainment, pain, frustration, brilliance and drama.

"I was asked would I be happy for extra-time and I said, 'yeah, absolutely,' because you have that winning mentality.

"I spoke to Steve Hansen. His first comment to me was, 'it feels like kissing your sister, doesn't it?'

"For us, to come to New Zealand against the back-to-back world champions and draw a series is an unbelievable achievement, considering we were completely written-off.

"Everyone was talking about this being a 3-0 whitewash," said Gatland.

"These players have shown unbelievable character."

Almost instantly, the Lions' focus will turn to South Africa and the mission to improve on their 2-1 defeat there in 2009.

They have won in Australia and drawn in New Zealand under Gatland's watch.

What about a third bite in 2021? "You never say never," he smiled.

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