There are perhaps few men to have given so much to the British and Irish Lions that don’t hail from those four nations, contained on two small islands.
Warren Gatland seems a little tired when he sits on his final Zoom call of the tour of South Africa. It has been less than an hour since his team lost the series to the Springboks, even less time since many in red stayed to watch Siya Kolisi lifted the trophy confirming the Boks win.
It was much the same story as when the New Zealander was first involved with the Lions in 2009, Morne Steyn kicking his nation to victory in the third Test yet again.
Gatland was merely an assistant coach to Sir Ian McGeechan all those years ago, but again it is the men in green, gold and white who can call themselves victors over the Lions.
This is not to say that the tourists were not worthy of the victory. Liam Williams had the opportunity to send Josh Adams clear through, but the opportunity was spurned.
The Lions were even over the whitewash at one point, but the Boks held the ball up and at the resulting scrum Kyle Sinckler was pinged, allowing the home side to clear.
?? That was incredibly tense, until the end when Morne Steyn stepped up yet again— Springboks (@Springboks) August 7, 2021
?? Match report: https://t.co/zXMrapb703#CastleLionsSeries #StrongerTogether #StrongerForever #RSAvBIL #SAvBIL pic.twitter.com/sBidemL55Q
“When you are playing against South Africa, you know it is going to be a really tight contest,” Gatland said, “it is going to be a bounce of the ball or a call or something. We have been held up over the line and then we get penalised at a scrum, which is a bit unlucky when you are five meters out from their line.
“From that point of view, there were some key moments, but it was always going to be a bounce of the ball. It was always going to be tight. The boys gave it 100% and from a coaching point of view, you can’t ask for more than that.
“We spoke at half-time about starting really well after half-time. We’d had a good first half, and that was probably the most disappointing part of the game, that first 10 minutes after half-time, where we just got penned in a little bit in our half and then it took us a little while to start generating more momentum.”
With Cheslin Kolbe scoring a try for the Springboks, it was joked in the Sky Sports studio that fans of Ireland, Scotland and Wales can finally feel some of the pain that England fans experienced in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final.
There is no denying that the Boks were more than worthy winners of this series, their resolve after contending with Covid-19 outbreaks in their own camp, along with virtually no time together in 20 months, it is an achievement that will live long in the memory of the players, coaching group, and the nation.
Add to this the civil unrest in the country, it is a remarkable feat that the tour was even completed. Basing the whole series in Cape Town became the obvious solution, and then conclusion, for organisers and whilst the rugby might not have been the game’s greatest advertisement, the results cannot be argued.
It is telling that in each Test, the side who led at the break ultimately lost the encounter. There were also the sideshows of ‘burner’ Twitter accounts, as well as hour long critiques of referees, meaning it would be unfair to say this was anything like the tour we wanted, or even deserved for that matter.
For Gatland, defeat is no way for a servant of the Lions to be remembered. The series’ in 2013 was nothing short of iconic and to have drawn with the All Blacks in 2017 was nothing short of phenomenal, and whether or not the 57-year-old leads the tourists again is yet to be seen.
Heading back to New Zealand tomorrow to prepare for his second season with the Chiefs, the former Wales coach says he will be reflecting on another intense period of coaching at the very top level before making any real next steps in regards to his future.
“I am incredibly proud of my involvement, and I am very, very passionate about the Lions,” Gatland said. “I fly back to New Zealand tomorrow and then start thinking about my role with the Chiefs.
"I can't ask more than for the guys to give 100% and they definitely did that."#LionsRugby Head Coach Warren Gatland speaks to Sky Sports after their narrow defeat to the Springboks in South Africa. ?? pic.twitter.com/zCVGGyFKn2— Sky Sports Rugby Union (@SkySportsRugby) August 7, 2021
“I have a long flight and then 14 days isolation in a hotel, so it is the least of what I am looking forward to doing, which is going to be tough, because of having been in isolation already for the last eight weeks.
“So, another challenging couple of weeks ahead and I think in that time on my own it will be a good chance to think about what the next chapter of my life is going to be. I am not someone who plans too far ahead, I am a great believer of what will be will be and hopefully things will be in the horizon in the future.
“I definitely haven’t got any long-term plans and it is just a bit of wait and see. The thing is about Lions tours, they are so intense, and not just for the players, but all the staff, so everyone needs a little break to refresh and to clear their minds and then to start thinking about what happens next.”