It was the Lions tour that had it all – glory, drama and controversy aplenty – over the course of six memorable weeks.
In the end, a drawn series that fully pleased no-one may actually have been perversely fitting.
The Rugby Union Weekly team of former England and Lions winger Ugo Monye and BBC rugby reporter Chris Jones analysed every twist and turn of the series on the podcast during the tour.
Now, they reveal their end-of-tour awards, as discussed on the latest episode.
Player of the tour:
UM: Jonathan Davies was voted player of the series by his peers, and it’s hard to disagree with this choice. Brilliant in all three Test matches, playing every minute, and was always a threat in attack and destructive in defence. Wales have dominated this award over the last three tours with Leigh Halfpenny winning it in 2013 and Jamie Roberts in 2009. Sean O’Brien, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau get notable mentions.
CJ: Honourable mentions for Sean O’Brien, who until injury in the 3rd Test was a force of nature on the flank, Maro Itoje, whose energy and aura saw him become a cult hero with the Lions support, and Tadgh Furlong, who announced himself on the world stage.
But Jonathan Davies – a hero of 2013 – was wholly instrumental as the Lions unleashed an attacking edge to ally with a confrontational defence. Davies made a line break with his first touch in the first Test and was the best centre on either side across the series. On this evidence he would walk into the All Blacks side – which says a lot.
Moment of the tour:
UM: Lions coach Warren Gatland walking into a press conference with a clown’s nose was a stroke of genius. Clearly it was pre-planned… but by who? Whose idea was it? (Gatland said it was his)
CJ: Gnarled veteran Alun Wyn Jones leaving the pitch after the famous victory in Wellington and joining in with the Lions fans singing “Oh Maro Itoje”. It was a sign of how the incredible travelling support was an inspiration to players young and old.
And how can we not mention Romain Poite….
Match of the tour:
UM: The third Test! A game which had everything, well everything bar a winner! A brilliant game played in great spirit by two fantastic sides.
CJ: The midweek meeting with the Highlanders was a roller-coaster game in front of a fervent crowd under the roof in Dunedin, but for sheer drama and jeopardy nothing can beat the Lions leaving it late to salvage the series at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington in the 2nd Test. The noise from the Lions fans flooding out of the ground afterwards and pouring into the city centre – soaking wet – will long be remembered. They now had some glory to go with a brilliant holiday.
Try of the tour:
CJ: Jack Nowell’s brilliant team try against the Chiefs, and the Scotland-inspired score from Tommy Seymour against the Hurricanes were both beauties, but Sean O’Brien’s stunning effort in the Test series opener in Auckland will go down in history.
Started by Liam Williams’ break out from defence, and with Jonathan Davies and Elliot Daly both prominent, it showed the Lions could take the All Blacks on at their own game.
In fairness to the All Blacks they scored one or two decent tries of their own….
CJ: Rory Best, the experienced Ireland captain, led the midweek side with distinction in often-difficult circumstances (see ‘Geography Six’). Off the pitch, by all accounts, Best was a driving force behind the squad bonding socially – which is good to hear.
Tour to forget for:
UM: Sonny Bill Williams. Ultimately his red card proved the decisive moment in the 2nd Test.
CJ: The Lions’ communications strategy. Pulling up a drawbridge between the media and the players is surely not the way forward.
Issues with the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) process have also threatened to stall the recent advances in concussion management.
Harshest headline of the tour:
UM: The front page of the New Zealand Herald depicting Gatland as a clown was highly disrespectful, unjust… and proved to be incorrect.
Quip of the tour:
UM: Gatland responding by saying he was a “happy clown” after the 2nd Test!
The Lions will carry on because….
CJ: On the evidence of the last few weeks it remains the pinnacle for the supporters, and, most importantly, the players as well.
UM: I know a few off-field decisions, such as the ‘Geography Six’ upset a lot of people, myself included. But in excess of 20,000 travelling Lions fans making an away game – in the most hostile of rugby-playing countries – feel like home for the Lions speaks volumes. Best support in the world.
The Lions are in danger because….
UM: The Lions aren’t in danger. But perhaps a review is needed to work out how to satisfy commercial partners and sponsors while giving the players the best opportunity to be successful.
CJ: Administration from all sides – Lions, clubs, unions – has left them clinging on to a tenuous place in the congested rugby calendar.
The veil of security and protection around the Lions camp was also unnecessary. They are just rugby players; let them enjoy themselves.
Best thing about New Zealand:
CJ: When a 132-cap All Black pops into your hotel to come on the podcast….
Or when another World Cup winner shows you around his 48,000-acre farm….
Worst thing about New Zealand:
CJ: The strength of the dollar and the weakness of the pound….
The award for best support from a Lions family goes to….
CJ: The Owens family.
Ken’s wife Carys, young son Efan, and parents arrived on 31 May, following every twist and turn of the tour, as well as exploring New Zealand.
“We went to Paihia with Jonathan Davies’ parents in a campervan,” said Carys.
“That was the point when I rang Ken and said ‘I want to move out here now’.”
The rest of the family – sister, friends and family friends – then piled out for the Test series…
Combined XV of the tour:
1. Mako Vunipola
2. Codie Taylor
3. Tadgh Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Brodie Retallick
6. Sam Warburton
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Kieran Read
9. Conor Murray
10. Beauden Barrett
11. Rieko Ioane (includes performances for Blues and Maori)
12. Owen Farrell
13. Jonathan Davies
14. Waisake Naholo (includes performance for Highlanders)
15. Jordie Barrett (includes performance for Hurricanes)
And finally…. Fan of the tour:
CJ: David Williams, who decided to fly out for the final Test on the Sunday after the second Test victory.
He left Heathrow at 10pm on Thursday, arriving in Auckland on Saturday at 10am (the game was that evening), flying back from Auckland at 7pm on Sunday to arrive back at Heathrow on Monday at 2pm. That’s four days away from home for a total of 33 hours in New Zealand.
Honourable mention to Ron and Jan from Slough, who saved for 11 years to follow the tour as a way of celebratating their 25th wedding anniversary, but also to every supporter who spent thousands and made the Lions what it is.
And we can’t forget Alex Edwards, whose chance meeting with some friendly locals led to an overnight stay at the home of New Zealand stars Rieko and Akira Ioane.
|Lions tour 2017|
|3 June||Provincial Barbarians||Won 13-7|
|7 June||Blues||Lost 22-16|
|10 June||Crusaders||Won 12-3|
|13 June||Highlanders||Lost 23-22|
|17 June||Maori All Blacks||Won 32-10|
|20 June||Chiefs||Won 34-6|
|24 June||New Zealand||Lost 30-15|
|27 June||Hurricanes||Drew 31-31|
|1 July||New Zealand||Won 24-21|
|8 July||New Zealand||Drew 15-15|