Adam Jones: Lions secured their future

Wales and British & Irish Lions prop Adam Jones has been on two Lions tours – playing in five Tests – and has won 95 caps for Wales. He knows Warren Gatland better than most and understands the challenges and thrills of a Lions tour. Currently in a player-coach role at Harlequins, with over 17 years in the game, Jones’ knowledge of the sport is unrivalled and he gives his expert insight to ESPN.

As the dust settles on the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour there has been a lot of talk about where the tourists fit into the new global calendar.

It seems inevitable that there will be less time for these trips, with World Rugby apparently keen for them to be reduced to eight games. But I think that the tour of New Zealand has proved that the Lions still works.

The 10-match schedule should not be thrown out but instead used as a blueprint for future tours. Following a slow start, the players gelled fantastically to give the All Blacks a fright and show that they are not the invincible force that everyone thinks they are.

Obviously there were tough games along the way, but 10 matches is a good amount of time to get a squad together and allow players to get used to each other. If you cut another two games from an already packed schedule then you are making it doubly hard for the Lions to compete with Southern Hemisphere sides.

But these days money talks, and if Premiership Rugby or World Rugby want to mess with the Lions then I’m sure they are more than capable of doing so. Ultimately Warren Gatland’s men were unable to get the Test series win that they wanted against the All Blacks. Drawing the final Test was a strange, weird way to finish.

As Romain Poite blew his whistle I thought ‘oh, is that it?’ but it was a fantastic game of rugby and for the Lions it was a positive tour overall. That was not the case on their last visit to the country, of course, but the painful memory of the 2005 has now been banished.

Everything about that tour 12 years ago was a shambles. The trips to South Africa and Australia in 2009 and 2013 helped put the Lions back on the map, but these players have gone a step further — they have built bridges with the New Zealand public.

A number of players excelled themselves — Jamie George and the superstar that is Maro Itoje were both very good — but I was most pleased with the performances of three players I know well.

I’m very proud of Aun Wyn Jones. After the first Test he took a lot of stick and the way he came back in the last two matches was phenomenal. You need that kind of experience. It’s all very well having the youngsters full of exuberance, but it’s good to have someone there with real stature to put it all together.

At the other end of the age scale, it was pleasing to see my Harlequins teammate Kyle Sinckler coming on and having an impact in Test matches. He told me before he left that he was delighted to be on the tour, but that he really wanted to play against the All Blacks.

I’m chuffed that was able to fulfil his dream, and perform incredibly well in the process. Jonathan Davies was named players’ player of the tour by his teammates and he has been amazing throughout.

As a Wales international you get wind of players coming through the system and it was often mentioned that there was a kid from Llanelli emerging who was strong and quick.

Lions players celebrated a series draw after a first Test defeat to the All Blacks. MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images

I’m not saying he was destined for greatness but he’s always been an incredible athlete, a really strong boy who is a lot quicker than people give him credit for. He couldn’t pass back then — not much has changed there — and we used to give him a lot of stick because he couldn’t kick.

But that is an area that has come on leaps and bounds, he’s now a good left foot option and the way he kicked during the series put the All Blacks back three under a lot of pressure.

Focus now turns to South Africa and the build-up for the 2021 tour will crank into gear following the next Rugby World Cup in Japan. As the Lions prepare for the Springboks, the record books will show that they have still only won one Test series in New Zealand.

Make no mistake, though, the buzz around the South African tour will be as big as ever — I can’t wait.

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