The British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand was iconic. It must be the most difficult tour any international team has ever undertaken. They played ten matches winning five of them, losing three with two draws.
The statistics do not do justice to the tour, as the All Blacks are probably the best international team the world has ever seen. Also, the Lions played the five franchises and not the provinces as in the past. Importantly they drew the series with the All Blacks and became only the second Lions team not to lose a series in New Zealand in 129 years. The Lions of 1971, captained by John Dawes, is the only Lions team to have won a series in New Zealand.
Warren Gatland must be given full credit for managing the Lions through what was a high profile and demanding tour on the field. It could have gone wrong for the touring team at any stage because of the intensity. Gatland has now coached the Lions on two successful tours of Australia and New Zealand. He joins Carwyn James, Syd Millar and Ian McGeechan as Lions coaches who have won Test series. Add to this his success with Wales winning three Six Nations titles and it is clear that he is currently the best coach in world rugby.
The tour once again highlighted how successful Lions tours are because they happen only every four years, and the main Southern Hemisphere countries only every twelve years. The support the Lions enjoyed was unbelievable; probably in the vicinity of twenty five thousand fans followed their team. With all the red jerseys in the stadiums, the All Blacks can be forgiven thinking that they were playing in the United Kingdom.
The tour also highlighted what the modern-day rugby fan has been deprived of by not having long tours by the Springboks, All Blacks, Wallabies and the UK Grand Slam tours. The game is poorer because of the current structure of professional rugby that limits the international schedule. The sooner rugby returns to long tours with context the better for the game. It was a pity that this tour did not have a fourth Test. Personally, I think the Lions would have started as favourites as they were growing in confidence as a team.
There is constant talk that the four home unions are not in favour of continuing with Lions tours. That would be a sad day for the game as it would lose one of its historically iconic brands and the game would be much poorer for it.
Long live the Lions and full tours!