‘Gobsmacking, enthralling, here to stay’

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See ya, Sam. The Lions’ superb showing in New Zealand appears to have secured their future for many years to come

We have just witnessed a phenomenal Lions series.

It was gobsmacking, unbelievable, enthralling and explosive throughout, featuring huge momentum swings and with outstanding individual performances in all three Tests.

I thought beforehand that if they lost the first Test the Lions would lose the series 3-0, so I have to give credit to what is the strongest Lions side since 2001, or maybe even 1997, for the way they fought back.

The quality shone through both in the players and the coaching.

After the first week or so the debate about lack of preparation time died down – that is one for the administrators to sort out behind closed doors.

But just think what they could have done with 10 days’ more time to get ready – they might even have gone in as favourites against the world champions.

Most memorable moment?

This will be a tour remembered for Sean O’Brien’s try in the first Test.

The Lions may have lost that match but it was a wonder try, and now the lads have managed to draw the series that score will be the one that sticks in the memory.

Although that might be the standout moment, to be honest pretty much every moment of every Test was a defining moment – it really was that good.

The most significant moment was Sonny Bill Williams’ red card in the second Test. You don’t know for certain what the outcome would have been had he not been sent off, but it’s more than likely New Zealand would have won.

That was effectively two defining moments – the impact of his shoulder with Anthony Watson’s head, and the moment referee Jerome Garces – correctly – decided it was a red-card offence.

See ya, Sonny. Was Sonny Bill Williams’ red card the moment the series hinged on?

It was a huge momentum swing in both the match and the series, although it didn’t seem so immediately because the Lions proceeded to give away loads of penalties and slip nine points behind, before finally starting to believe in themselves and scoring two great tries as they fought back to win.

Another pivotal moment would have been conversations after the first Test because the Lions had been dominated physically in many cases.

The conversations must have been along the lines of looking players in the eye and saying: “Are you genuinely up for this?”

Warren Gatland’s decision to field the back three of Liam Williams, Watson and Elliot Daly in the second Test was a bit of a surprise but, as before with the coach’s decisions, it worked out.

And then there’s the penalty that then wasn’t in the final Test.

Sam Warburton dug deep into the Lions’ legacy and his own mental reserves to prevent New Zealand doing what they wanted to do with the ball.

But arguably his biggest contribution was being respected enough by Romain Poite for the referee to change his decision and decide to award a scrum to New Zealand, rather than a very kickable penalty, right at the end of Saturday’s decider.

It was huge because, unless I’ve got the rules wrong, it was a penalty as the ball was avoidable for Ken Owens, while a scrum says contact was accidental.

He caught it and although it was maybe a reflex action, catching and then releasing the ball suggests he could have avoided it.

I have to say ‘God bless the Kiwis’, because on the pitch they accepted it. They will talk to the referee after the game, but during matches they just get on with it. They set the standards.

Who were the best players for the Lions?

Taulupe Faletau’s try in the second Test sparked the Lions’ comeback in the series

Jonathan Davies was very good and was the Lions players’ man of the series but for me the best player in a red shirt was Taulupe Faletau.

The Wales number eight was so consistent, and I believe there’s even more to come.

He’s a phenomenal athlete with a fantastic engine, which allows him to always play for 80 minutes in both defence and attack.

I’d still like to see more of him carrying in the wider channels, but he was my man of series.

Rugby is such a squad game it’s a shame you have to pick individuals but Taulupe is a bit of an unsung hero and his work-rate and ability mean he made a massive contribution.

His Wales team-mate Davies had a fine series.

He made some great breaks, he was solid in defence without being headline-making, he assumed the role of carrying to the gainline in the second and third Tests, came up with a couple of good relieving kicks and played well all round.

Maro Itoje showed his growing maturity by the way he pushed the boundaries – he was knowingly offside and doing it for a reason, which is great when you get away with it.

He was magnificent in the third Test and at one point made four tackles in about 45 seconds.

His willingness to be involved is staggering and a benchmark for anyone who wants to be the best.

Owen Farrell’s mental ability to step back and kick crucial penalties, especially after he missed a couple of kicks early in the tour, shows his ability to totally zone in when he has to – something New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett, for all his other abilities, doesn’t seem able to do.

O’Brien was also impactful on the flank and made sure the Lions were on the front foot both in attack and defence, and his Ireland team-mate Conor Murray was very good at the base, helping run the game.

What about the future?

I hope this series is a springboard for the home unions to believe there can be a shift in power in terms of the world rankings and beating the southern hemisphere teams on a more regular basis.

Let’s get fitter and really test ourselves.

I don’t think many of the home unions can compete on skills in the forwards with New Zealand but the back three the Lions fielded was probably more skilful and adventurous than that of the hosts, which shows the possibilities are there.

There was some talk going into the series that the future of the Lions was once again under threat and what’s interesting is that the posturing is coming from the clubs.

I would like to think they’re clever enough to go and do the negotiations behind the scenes now because they must realise how secure the Lions’ future is.

Ask a player, coach or supporter if they think the Lions is here to stay and there will be a resounding yes. That says everything that needs to be said.

Lions tour 2017
3 June Provincial Barbarians Won 13-7
7 June Blues Lost 22-16
10 June Crusaders Won 12-3
13 June Highlanders Lost 23-22
17 June Maori All Blacks Won 32-10
20 June Chiefs Won 34-6
24 June New Zealand Lost 30-15
27 June Hurricanes Drew 31-31
1 July New Zealand Won 24-21
8 July New Zealand Drew 15-15

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