Ten matches, 12 flights, 12 different hotels, innumerable glasses of pinot noir and a series which ended up as a draw.
The 2017 British & Irish Lions trip to New Zealand will live long in the memory. Following 41 nights away from home, here are the ESPN tour awards.
Lions player of the series
Jonathan Davies celebrates with family after the Lions drawn series with the All Blacks. David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images
The Lions have had some standout performers. Conor Murray has been magnificent, as have Maro Itoje and Sam Warburton. But the man who just edges them is Jonathan Davies. The outside centre had a wonderful tour, caused the All Blacks all sorts of problems and heads home with his head held high.
All Blacks player of the series
Aaron Smith played well, so did Codie Taylor, Sam Cane, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock but with the games putting an emphasis on the set piece, Brodie Retallick was the All Blacks’ standout player. He was a menace all over the field, forever causing havoc with his ball-carrying and work in the set piece. He had a magnificent series.
Try of the series
The Blues’ winner against the Lions was special, as was Ngani Laumape’s against the tourists, but Sean O’Brien’s against the All Blacks in Test one was remarkable. It started with Liam Williams’ break and finished with the flanker going over the line. It made a mockery of those suggesting the Lions will play a dire brand of rugby.
Taulupe Faletau is tackled by opposite number Kieran Read during the third Test at Eden Park. David Rogers/Getty Images
Taulupe Faletau was superb for the Lions. With Billy Vunipola absent, the onus was on Faletau to firstly, stay fit, and secondly, bring the skills and presence from the back of the scrum. He had a brilliant tour.
The Tadhg Furlong song made a late charge, while Tu Terimi was extremely popular in the grounds, but the Maro Itoje chant has dominated proceedings here. To the beats of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, Itoje was the cult hero of the tour.
There were a few off-field matters to navigate on this tour, but the perceived targeting of Murray by the All Blacks got people in an awful stupor in this part of the world.
Most relaxed interviewee
CJ Stander is one of the most convivial characters on tour, and started one press conference in Christchurch by introducing himself to each member of the travelling press.
Services to social media
James Haskell in action against the Blues. David Rogers/Getty Images
James Haskell’s updates on his blossoming friendship with Sean O’Brien gave a good insight into squad life.
When you arrive in Queenstown, the flight in is breathtaking. But then as you navigate the winding road from the airport to the town, there is one moment where you round a corner and the mountain range and Lake Wakatipu pans out in front of you. It was the sort of experience which causes you to take an involuntary intake of breath. An incredible place.
The welcome at the Waitangi treaty ground will live long in the memory of those who travelled up there to witness the Lions’ official arrival in New Zealand. The passion was magnificent and the occasion truly awe-inspiring.
Most enjoyable place visited
The country is fantastic, the people wonderful and everywhere incredibly welcoming. But while Queenstown was incredible, Wellington was just a brilliant place to be for the two matches there. Courtney Place was always a hubbub of activity, as was Cuba Street. For the steak lovers out there, go to El Matador.
Any pinot noir from Central Otago. Get a case of that back to London immediately.
A hidden gem, the Duke of Marlborough on Russell has its own locally-brewed ale which was a real delight. But it has to be Speight’s.
One thing I’d change
All Blacks and Lions players take part in the shared trophy presentation at Eden Park. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Give the Lions a proper crack at preparation. Arriving on the Wednesday and playing on the Saturday was ridiculous. This team is special, they must be given the best shot possible at winning a series and the clubs must be more accommodating and willing to shift the season around to help the Lions. The task is already tough enough, give them a chance.
Prediction for 2021
The Lions will win 2-1 against the Springboks with Warren Gatland finishing his time with the tourists as the man who went to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and came back with a record of two series wins and one drawn. And they will have, like 2017, a ridiculously tough schedule.
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