FORMER coach Sir Ian McGeechan believes the British and Irish Lions will view their tour to New Zealand as a big success after sharing a dramatic Test series draw with the All Blacks.
A 15-15 tie in Saturday’s third and final Test in Auckland saw the series finish 1-1 after the Lions bounced back from defeat in the opening match against the world champions with a triumph in the second Test.
Players from both teams were left with mixed feelings following the drawn series but McGeechan feels the Lions - who finished their 10-match tour to New Zealand with five wins, three defeats and two draws - can look back on their efforts with pride.
The 70-year-old, now chairman of Yorkshire Carnegie, said: “I think the Lions will look back on it and say this has been a very successful series.
“To go one down, to play like they did last week and then on Saturday when they were under the hammer for 40 minutes and really the All Blacks could have had another two or three tries.
“I thought they (the Lions) played well and controlled the game in the second half, got themselves back in it and yes they could have won it, but I think they will look back and be very pleased with all the effort and all that energy that has gone into the three Tests.”
The future of the Lions and the team’s role in modern rugby has come under scrutiny during the tour, while head coach Warren Gatland has found himself being mocked and criticised on his return to his homeland.
McGeechan, Lions head coach four times between 1989 and 2009 and who returned to Headingley in 2014, believes any question marks or doubts about the Lions have now been answered.
He said: “Going forward, I think the Lions as a concept is as strong as it’s ever been. Those who want to take it away, you should be here tonight.
“This is the team that New Zealand want to play, South Africa want to play and Australia... The Lions is the biggest thing these players can play against.”
Yes they could have won it, but I think they will look back and be very pleased with all the effort and all that energy that has gone into the three Tests.Sir Ian McGeechan
Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick echoed those thoughts, highlighting the difference between this tour and the Lions’ previous trip to New Zealand, when they were thrashed 3-0 in the Test series in 2005.
He also singled out compatriot Gatland for special praise.
The 54-year-old said: “It’s phenomenal, it’s a wonderful organisation. From where it was in ‘05, to where it is out here now is quite phenomenal and you need to say a lot of that has to go to Warren Gatland in terms of what he laid out, in terms of what was needed to be successful here in New Zealand.
“And he had to earn the respect of the New Zealand public, the New Zealand players, and he has definitely done that. It’s been amazing and wonderful to see what the Lions have done, and what the fans have done.
“And there’s no reason why we can’t continue with this, it’s wonderful.”