If the British & Irish Lions were a product of our colonial past, something that has been forgotten as Britain closes her immigration doors to New Zealanders, it was still great to share the touring experience with our Commonwealth partners and the Irish.
I have to say the touring fans were outstanding, even though I welcomed the rest when the last of my northern hemisphere mates departed for home. The rugby is a by-product of their visit. We all go off and see the rugby on a Saturday, or for the midweek games, but for the rest of the week we just enjoyed each other’s company up and down New Zealand.
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.
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.
We managed to showcase our country to so many visitors, and that shared experience is one of the reasons why rugby is such a great game. While we sit and watch a game for 80 minutes, Lions tours are more about the people — and I hope it is a case of long may it continue.
At the end of it all, it is worth remembering that the All Blacks benefit most from the tour. The Lions are gone, and they won’t appear again for another four years; the players go back to their respective nations, where their sides are not as strong collectively as are the Lions. But the All Blacks remain.
We were put under pressure. We came up against a defence screen that we haven’t seen adopted by any other international side — except Wales, but not with the degree of success achieved by the Lions. We also learned that you need to be able to cope with a red card; that was also a warning to all New Zealand sides because it was one aspect of the game the referees said they were going to address, and they have done that.
The British & Irish Lions and All Blacks pose for a photograph after Game 3 of a successful series. MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP/Getty Images
The tour has also opened some doors for selection. Six months ago you wouldn’t have thought Ngani Laumape would be in an All Blacks jersey starting the third Test against the Lions. Jordie Barrett has progressed and stepped onto the big stage and done well. Codie Taylor has come through the series and, while slightly under the radar, he hasn’t done himself any harm in Dane Coles’ absence.
The results have also been good in that that they brought everyone in New Zealand down to earth with the realisation that we are not as good as we think we are, and that on an off day we can lose. We are not invincible.
The All Blacks will come away from the series and say, ‘We’ve got a few work-ons’.
During the Test series especially, the Lions were very good on defence. What we have to appreciate is that they were the best of the best from Britain and Ireland. Because they were the best in their positions from four nations, they replaced like with like when they replaced someone from the bench. Expecting them to fade in the final 20 minutes, like other teams have, was never going to happen. I think they grew as the tour went on, and brought more mongrel to the contests.
They rattled the All Blacks and that led to mistakes. They talk about the top two inches in the top levels of the game, and the Lions had the self-belief. Yet in saying all that, the All Blacks had enough to win the third Test but unfortunately for New Zealand it didn’t happen.
Williams shows his frustration after being shown a red card in Wellington. David Rogers/Getty Images
Australia, South Africa and Argentina will have watched the series and believe they have some areas in which they can take on the All Blacks through The Rugby Championship, because there were times when the All Blacks didn’t look like the world champions.
But if they are looking at the defensive system the Lions used, they will need to execute it with players capable of adopting that system and mastering it very, very quickly — as the Lions did. It will be a big ask because the Lions’ system was well coached, and while successful we can ask if it was possibly to the detriment of other parts of their game.
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So, for the drawn series?
Everyone felt flat at the end, but it was a fair result and testament to the Lions and Warren Gatland. In spite of all the comment and clown’s noses, the Lions responded in the only way they could and in the process shut the New Zealand public up.
In so far as the refereeing was concerned, I was always taught, just like all other kids in New Zealand, and probably around the rugby world, never to question the referee’s decision. We were taught there was no point arguing with the referees because they were right even if they were wrong and would never change their decision.
What I saw on Saturday goes against everything I was taught, and perhaps it means we now go down the football line where players argue with the referee every time because he might change his opinion.
For 100 years, we had respect for the referees knowing their word was absolute. It’s written in stone. But now there is doubt and the referees have created that themselves.
Beauden Barrett endured an off night from the kicking tee. Phil Walter/Getty Images
The referee can change his opinion. Great. Now, it’s really worth captains reading up their law books and questioning every decision if it doesn’t go in their favour.
The TMO is becoming more and more involved. But the TMO is involved only at the top end of the professional game. What is going to happen to refereeing at grassroots level? What are the implications of these decisions down the grades in amateur rugby? Are there going to be two different sets of laws? One for those with television coverage, and another for those without?
To me, it appeared that referee Romain Poite made the right decision from his instincts. But you can argue that perhaps Kieran Read might have been taking the player out, and it seemed to me that the ball came off Liam Williams’ head — which isn’t a knock-on. It’s all a can of worms because you can find just about anything when you slow it down to milliseconds. And that’s all down to the imperfect nature of sport, which means the referee is not going to get everything 100 percent right; the officials just have to make the game flow and enjoyable for the spectators.
It will feel strange dropping back into Super Rugby, but the Hurricanes-Crusaders game will catch all the excitement this weekend. It is another All Blacks trial for some of the New Zealand players, and it is a big game for the Crusaders to ensure they get finish top of the standings and get that home advantage.
But at the same time the Hurricanes will be playing for themselves at home for the last time this season.
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