Gatland: 'You've got to be pretty proud of that'

by AFP

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland on Saturday called drawing the series against New Zealand an "unbelievable achievement" for his team after they were "written off" by critics.

"You've got to be pretty proud of that," Gatland said, after the third Test ended in a 15-all draw in Auckland to leave the series all square with one win each.

The outcome left the All Blacks flat, with coach Steve Hansen describing it as akin to "kissing your sister", while captain Kieran Read said he was left "with a hollow feeling".

Gatland said that given the tough 10-match schedule, which included three Tests, and the limited time he had to prepare the Lions, the outcome was better than expected. 

"If you'd said six weeks ago we'd come to New Zealand and draw a Test series, you'd probably take that," said Gatland, who wore a clown's nose after the Test - in a dig at a New Zealand newspaper which had caricatured him as a clown. 

"For us to come here to New Zealand, against back-to-back world champions and draw a series is an unbelievable achievement, considering that we were completely written off. 

"Everyone was talking about this being a 3-0 whitewash." - Warren Gatland.

The Lions had the accurate boot of England's Owen Farrell to thank for securing the series draw, with pressure penalties in the closing minutes of the second and third Tests. 

His successful shot at goal in the 77th minute gave the Lions a 24-21 victory in the second Test. The last three minutes of that match were the only time they were ahead in the entire 240 minutes of Test rugby. 

In Saturday's third Test decider, it was another Farrell penalty, again three minutes from the end, which saw the Lions draw level with the All Blacks. 

The All Blacks scored the only tries in the match, to Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, with Beauden Barrett kicking a conversion and a penalty. The Lions' points came from four penalties by Farrell and one by Elliot Daly. 

Gatland, who coached the Lions to a series win over Australia four years ago, considered the Lions had shown "unbelievable character" and was in two minds about whether he would want to return as head coach when they reassemble in 2021 to tour South Africa.

He said the only certain entry in his diary was that his contract with Wales ends after the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and that he had nothing planned after that. 

"You never say never. In terms of after 2019 if there's a chat and an opportunity to think about 2021, and to do the three of them as a head coach and to win two and draw one wouldn't be a bad achievement," he said.