NOBLE DRAW IS A WIN-WIN FOR CAP­TAIN SAM’S PROUD LIONS

Daily Mail - - All Blacks 1 Lions 1 - Martin Sa­muel Chief Sports Writer

The first Sam War­bur­ton knew about it was when All Blacks play­ers started strid­ing to­wards him with their hands out­stretched. ‘I was ex­pect­ing to go again,’ said the cap­tain of the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions.

‘I didn’t re­alise it was a drawn se­ries. I was ready for an­other 10 min­utes each way, so I was plan­ning on drink­ing as many elec­trolytes as I could, be­cause I was cramp­ing up. The next thing peo­ple were com­ing up to me to shake hands and I was like: ‘‘Oh, it’s a draw’’.’

And, yes, in the moment, the mood at eden Park did fall a lit­tle flat. Lo­cals streamed for the ex­its, seem­ingly un­moved by the com­mem­o­ra­tion of Kieran Read’s 100th cap that would fol­low the fi­nal whis­tle, while even the Lions fans ap­peared some­what be­mused.

edg­ing away from Steve hansen’s rather du­bi­ous anal­ogy of kiss­ing a sis­ter, it was like get­ting to the last 20 min­utes of

Break­ing Bad only to have some­one walk in and turn the chan­nel over. ‘er, ex­cuse me, I was watch­ing that,’ you might say. ‘And I re­ally wanted to see how it ended.’

Yet we’ve got a day or so of hind­sight now and, one senses, at­ti­tudes are chang­ing. There is some­thing very de­cent, very noble, in de­cid­ing to shake hands and call it even.

Yes, sports­men are pro­grammed for vic­tory. War­bur­ton said it would have been nice to find a win­ner. But he wasn’t rag­ing about it. he wasn’t an­grily frus­trated. he didn’t blame the au­thor­i­ties for their over­sight or call for changes in the fu­ture. One imag­ines, the fur­ther away he gets from the heat of bat­tle, he will re­flect and smile and con­clude that, all things con­sid­ered, a draw was a very good re­sult in­deed.

he’s that kind of guy. A great Lion; and this tour is about noth­ing if not de­cency and hon­our. It is a gal­lant quest, handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, im­bued with his­tory and fine tra­di­tion. That’s what makes it dif­fer­ent.

The Lions play­ers were promised a win bonus. Was there a bonus for not los­ing? Tour man­ager John Spencer looked puz­zled. If there was, no­body had men­tioned it. Cer­tainly not the play­ers. Be­ing part of the Lions was worth a lit­tle bit more than that, any­way. And what would have hap­pened, say, had an ex­tra- time drop- kick de­cided more than four hours of blood, sweat and cheers?

Would the sta­dium sound sys­tem have played that in­fer­nal Queen song, with its overblown, un­char­i­ta­ble in­sis­tence that we af­ford no time for losers? Sorry, Fred­die, but God save us from that.

Not all losers are de­serv­ing, flawed or even weak. had the All Blacks fallen to a penalty in over­time they would have sur­ren­dered the se­ries hav­ing been be­hind for only three min­utes in 240 of nor­mal Test rugby. And we should ser­e­nade them with a mes­sage of dis­mis­sive con­tempt?

In to­tal, the All Blacks led for two hours and 53 min­utes over three Tests; for a fur­ther one hour and four min­utes scores be­tween the teams were level; that leaves be­tween the 77th and 80th minute of the sec­ond Test in Welling­ton, when the Lions had the up­per hand, by the mighty mar­gin of three points.

To pull off a se­ries draw in the cir­cum­stances is lit­tle short of heroic; but we should also ac­knowl­edge there is great de­cency in the hosts ac­cept­ing it is right and fair that the prize should be shared.

There have been moans about the re­versed penalty de­ci­sion that snatched away an All Blacks vic­tory, but no- one in black was prowl­ing the team cor­ri­dors at Eden Park de­mand­ing a chance to fin­ish the tourists off and send them home van­quished. All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino summed up the mu­tual re­spect when the time came for team pho­to­graphs.

‘He sug­gested both groups of play­ers mixed in to­gether,’ said War­bur­ton. ‘I thought that was a nice touch.’

The same when it came to swapping shirts. ‘A few lads came in af­ter the game,’ con­tin­ued War­bur­ton. ‘ That’s pretty rare, I know, be­cause the All Blacks don’t give their shirts away. The fact they came in shows how much they re­spect the Lions. I think Lions shirts are gold dust to us, just as All Blacks shirts are gold dust to them. So it’s a priv­i­lege to have one.’

War­bur­ton al­ready pos­sessed an All Black sou­venir from Welling­ton. Read’s No 8 shirt — on the oc­ca­sion of his 99th cap — will hang proudly at home, be­side his own from that Test and an­other Lions shirt from the first Test in Aus­tralia four years ago. Three shirts, three Lions me­men­tos. They are the only ones that make it to the War­bur­ton wall.

‘Kieran Read is one of the best play­ers I have played against, ever,’ added War­bur­ton. ‘So I was hon­oured when he asked me to swap shirts. Peo­ple make up ri­val­ries and stuff, but we’ve known these play­ers for a long time. I played three Tests against them last year, three this year,ar, we’ve chat­ted quite a lot,ot, got to know them and they’re nice guys.

‘ It was re­al­lyy en­joy­able on the pitch. There’s a bit of nig­gle some­times, but most of it you’re help­ing each other up off the floor and we’ve a lot of time for eachh other. There’s a lo­tot of good friend­ship­ships across those two dress-dress­ing rooms. It sound­snds a bit cheesy, but rugby is the win­ner of this se­ries.’

War­bur­ton, too. He has now cap­tained two Lions se­ries, won the first, drawn the sec­ond. His deputy, Peter O’Ma­hony, was al­most un­nerv­ingly quiet be­fore the first Test, but the moment War­bur­ton took over his su­pe­rior lead­er­ship skills were en­tirely ev­i­dent.

War­ren Gat­land even cred­ited him with skil­fully chang­ing ref­eree Ro­main Poite’s mind about the late penalty. With­out doubt, War­bur­ton would be a con­tender for any XV of great­est Lions; emerg­ing as a leader who, vi­tally, also knew when to lis­ten.

In the 41st minute, when El­liot Daly stood over the ball in the Lions half, War­bur­ton had grave doubts he could make the dis­tance. He takes up the story.

‘I con­sulted with Owen Far­rell and I said, “Crikey, that’s quite far. Shall we go for the cor­ner?” And he said, “Mate, El­liot’s got this”. So I picked up a bit of grass, threw it and saw there was a lit­tle bit of cross­wind. So I said again, “Crikey, it’s a hell of kick”. But he in­sisted, “Mate, he’s got it”. So I took his word for it and El­liot took the three and when he jogged back, Owen just winked at me, like “I told you so”. So if he says he’s got it, he’s got it.

‘I trust those boys be­cause they kick all the time and they know their range. The last two games Owen has been bril­liant with the boot and it takes a lot of courage to do that. I usu­ally have a pref­er­ence over whether we go for three, but when­ever I’ve asked him to do it, you can just tell he’s got nerves of steel and he says, “Yep, def­i­nitely” and bangs it over.

‘Out of all the guys I’ve played with there are cer­tain guys you’d like to be in the trenches with and he’s one of them. He’s a guy other guys turn to. The phrase “nat­u­ral leader” is thrown around a lot, but he’s a gen­uine, nat­u­ral leader and win­ner. When I look back over my ca­reer he’ll be a player I’ll be re­ally glad I got to play with.’

One imag­ines life­time bonds have been made in these weeks in the south­ern hemi­sphere. Some were car­ried over from the pre­vi­ous tour to Aus­tralia and per­hap­shaps wi­will con­tinue to South Africa if Gat­land is re­taine­dret as coach a sec­sec­ond time. What an achieve­ment tthat would be.

And while aap­point­ing a New Zealan­der to coach the BBri­tish and Ir­ish LLions may seem a fail­ure in one asaspect, what can­not­not be ar­gued is that Gat­land’s knowl­edgeedge of the lo­cal psy­che was highly in­flu­en­tial. Re­flect­ing on the tour yes­ter­day morn­ing, he said he knew the hosts were rat­tled just from cer­tain state­ments at press con­fer­ences.

‘ Some­one men­tioned that if they lost, the sun would come up to­mor­row and it wouldn’t be the end of the world and they would learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence,’ re­called Gat­land.

‘Those are com­ments you don’t hear com­ing out of the New Zealand camp. They were a cou­ple of weird things that you just thought — (pulls quizzi­cal face).

‘The All Blacks are masters at not wor­ry­ing about the op­po­si­tion, just fo­cus­ing on them­selves, so we felt that tac­ti­cally we made them play a lit­tle dif­fer­ently and they picked a team to com­bat our strengths and they don’t nor­mally do that. I think that was a sign of re­spect for what we had achieved.’

And so, come the end, they shook hands, shared a tro­phy, shared a beer and vowed to do it all again in 12 years, with an en­tirely new set of per­son­nel.

But the re­spect will be there and the his­tory and the tra­di­tion, be­cause that is what Lions tours are about. Some­times it re­ally is a win-win.

AP/REUTERS

ShareS of theth spoils: Maro Itoje st starred in a an­other epic scrap (main), th then Read ( (left)l and W held the War­bur­ton tr tro­phy (i (in­set) Wh

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