Warren Gatland believes he might be the only coach who could have guided the British & Irish Lions to their Test series draw with New Zealand.
The Lions boss admitted there were times he hated the 2017 tour of his homeland, where the local media turned criticism personal on a number of occasions.
Ten matches, 12 flights, 12 different hotels, innumerable glasses of pinot noir and a series which ended up as draw. Here are ESPN’s Lions tour awards.
British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland walked into his press conference wearing a clown’s nose as he hailed his side’s character.
The British & Irish Lions have ended a gruelling 10-game tour of New Zealand with a record of five wins, three losses and two draws. ESPN has been there every step of the way.
Gatland had always expected a certain level of flak as a Kiwi leading the tourists, but not the invective that came his way as the Lions won the second Test 24-21 and then drew Saturday’s final clash 15-15 to seal a share of the spoils.
However, the Wales boss conceded he knew the risks associated with taking the Lions head coaching job for a second-straight tour, especially after claiming a series win in Australia in 2013.
“I thought it was a hiding to nothing,” said Gatland of opting to lead the Lions for a second tour in succession.
“It is one of those positions that you are offered and it’s very difficult to walk away from.
“Trying to win in New Zealand is the ultimate challenge.
“When I reflected on it I felt if I wasn’t offered the position it would have been fine. Once I was offered the job you can’t walk away from that sort of challenge, particularly someone like myself when you are competitive.
“I think if anyone else had been doing it, we might not have drawn the series.”
The New Zealand Herald mocked up Gatland as a clown in a front-page caricature that upset the Lions boss given its direct personal nature.
Gatland has stated throughout the tour, however, that the Lions received a fine welcome from the New Zealand people — and he even insisted he maintains a good relationship with All Blacks boss Steve Hansen.
Gatland firmly believes he was able to turn his understanding of the New Zealand psyche to the tourists’ advantage, and will now leave the Land of the Long White Cloud feeling vindicated by his performance as Lions boss.
Gatland has presided over two Lions tours and is yet to taste series defeat. PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
“In the past people have come to New Zealand and haven’t been quite prepared about culturally what you’re facing,” said Gatland.
“There are strengths in New Zealand as a nation, in terms of the isolation and being so far away, and galvanising themselves to have a go at anything. But there can be cracks at times as well.
“The All Blacks are hardly ever vulnerable but last week there were a few comments made that I hadn’t expected.
“Someone mentioned the result and said that if they lost the sun would still come up tomorrow and it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and they would learn from that experience. Those are comments that you don’t hear very often coming out of the New Zealand camp.
“My wife asked me about three weeks into the tour, she said ‘how are you enjoying the tour?’ and I said ‘I’m hating it’.
“You don’t publicly show that something’s affecting you. I don’t mind people criticising me tactically or the way that we play but I thought some of the stuff was quite personal. And, as a Kiwi, I found that quite challenging to be perfectly honest.
“You’ve got to put that aside and move on. I’m not a person who trawls through every newspaper and media and stuff but you hear what’s going on.
“You try really hard to make sure that doesn’t affect you; you’ve got to make sure you’re relaxed and calm. That’s important the staff and players see you as the person in charge and in control of whatever’s going on out there.”
Warren Gatland, right, chats to All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen following the third Test. David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images
Asked to characterise his relationship with All Blacks counterpart Hansen, Gatland replied: “I think it’s pretty positive really.
“We’re both incredibly competitive coaches but at the end of the day I think we all came to the conclusion that it was a great series, particularly with the atmosphere at the games, and there was some tough rugby played.”
The Lions have still only ever won one Test series in New Zealand, back in 1971. But their 2017 draw now ranks as their second-most successful return against the All Blacks.
Gatland said: “We’ve got to reflect and say it’s a pretty good achievement in terms of coming to New Zealand and playing the best team in the world in their own backyard. And we’ve drawn the series, particularly after losing the first Test.”
Gatland again refused to rule out coaching the Lions in 2021 but said he would definitely step down as Wales boss after the 2019 World Cup.
Asked if he could lead the Lions again in four years, Gatland replied: “Possibly; it’s up to the board and the Lions isn’t it.
“I’m definitely, definitely finishing up after the World Cup with Wales, no matter what. They may get rid of me before the World Cup. I would have been there for long enough and so I don’t know what I’m going to do post-2019, there’s no plans at the moment.
“I’m not worried about the future, I’m not worried about what’s going to happen. I know there will be something out there for me.”
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