Gat­land’s fu­ture un­cer­tain after drawn Test se­ries

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

With a plas­tic clown nose perched above a wry smile, it was hard to find a hap­pier man at Eden Park on Satur­day than Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons coach War­ren Gat­land. Heav­ily crit­i­cized from the mo­ment they ar­rived in New Zealand, and given no hope of beat­ing rugby’s reign­ing world cham­pi­ons, the Li­ons de­fied the odds to draw the fi­nal Test 15-15 and tie the three-match se­ries.

For most of the play­ers and spec­ta­tors who had ex­pected to see a clear win­ner, there was an over­whelm­ing feel­ing of be­wil­der­ment, frus­tra­tion and dis­ap­point­ment. But not for Gat­land, a New Zealan­der him­self. Lam­pooned as a clown by one New Zealand news­pa­per, he couldn’t re­sist the chance to poke fun at his de­trac­tors. “For us to come here to New Zealand, against the back-to­back world cham­pi­ons, and draw a se­ries, I think is an un­be­liev­able achieve­ment con­sid­er­ing we were com­pletely writ­ten off,” Gat­land said. “Every­one was talk­ing about this be­ing a 3-0 white­wash ... this group of play­ers has shown un­be­liev­able char­ac­ter.”

Ev­ery­thing seemed to be go ac­cord­ing to the script for the home team when the All Blacks con­vinc­ingly won the first test 30-15, but the Li­ons outscored New Zealand two tries to nil to win the sec­ond test 24-21 and force a de­cider which ended in a thrilling but also an­ti­cli­mac­tic stale­mate, re­sult­ing in just the sec­ond drawn se­ries in the al­most 120year his­tory of Li­ons tours.

“I can un­der­stand every­one feels a bit flat be­cause you want a result,” Gat­land said. “But I think we’ll reflect on it and say it was pretty spe­cial to put a team to­gether to play against the best team in the world in their back­yard and par­tic­u­larly here at Eden Park where they have a phe­nom­e­nal record in terms of their suc­cess over a num­ber of years.

“I think we’ll wake up to­mor­row and think that’s not bad. If we’d been asked six weeks ago ‘would you take a drawn se­ries 1-1?’ you’d prob­a­bly say ‘yeah,’ that would reflect a pretty suc­cess­ful se­ries for the Li­ons.”

Per­haps fit­tingly after an epic se­ries that cap­ti­vated the rugby world, there was a hint of con­tro­versy right at the end when French ref­eree Ro­main Poite ini­tially awarded a late penalty to New Zealand that would have given the All Blacks a shot at victory only to re­verse the de­ci­sion after con­sult­ing the video re­view of­fi­cial.

New Zealand cap­tain Kieran Read thought the penalty should have stood but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said his team should have al­ready wrapped up the match after scor­ing two unan­swered tries and wast­ing sev­eral other chances. “We could have won if we’d taken the op­por­tu­ni­ties we cre­ated,” Hansen said. “It was an av­er­age way for it to fin­ish, but that’s sport. We’ve got to ac­cept that and move on and get bet­ter at what we’re try­ing to do.”

New Zealand’s next as­sign­ment is the an­nual Rugby Cham­pi­onship, which in­cludes Aus­tralia, South Africa and Ar­gentina, while the Li­ons will not tour again un­til 2021 when they visit South Africa. Gat­land coached the Li­ons victory over Aus­tralia in 2013 and said he might con­sider do­ing the job again in four years. “There’s a lot of wa­ter to go un­der the bridge be­fore that,” he said. “My fo­cus now is on Wales and the au­tumn and look­ing to­wards (the 2019 World Cup). I’m def­i­nitely fin­ish­ing there un­less they get rid of me be­fore that time ... you never say never.”

AP

AUCK­LAND: Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons head coach War­ren Gat­land, right, talks with for­mer All Blacks cap­tain Sean Fitz­patrick ahead of the third and fi­nal rugby test be­tween the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons and the All Blacks at Eden Park in Auck­land, New Zealand, Satur­day.—

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