Lions tour: The Best of British (and Irish) to you, with added SBW

All Black captain Kieran Read and Lions captain Sam Warburton pose with the series trophy.

All Black captain Kieran Read and Lions captain Sam Warburton pose with the series trophy.

It monsooned in Whangarei, sleeted in Dunedin, drizzled in Rotorua, bucketed in Wellington, lashed across Auckland and yet it proved impossible to pour cold water on the Lions tour, or finish off a team that refused to go under.

National nervousness climbed after Lions wins over the Crusaders and the New Zealand Maori, to extreme edginess going into the decider, then nuclear perplexity after French referee Romain Poite changed his mind at Eden Park.

And now, some random observations:

Centre Jonathan Davies showed it wasn't just the Lions forwards stacked with muscles. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

TALKING WITH GIANTS: When you're 1.72m and 82kg, a six-week Lions tour is a pain in the neck, literally. It's all talking with giants. Even halfbacks are taller.

Interviewing All Blacks captain Kieran Read was comfortable; he was sitting down so we saw eye to eye, on that level at least. But George Kruis. Courtney Lawes, Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano all had to be seen as mountain peaks; if you want a description of the underside of their chins, get in touch.

Standing shortie Kevin Norquay interviews a sitting Kieran Read. Credit: PHOTOSPORT

When 122kg Lions prop Kyle Sinckler was a bit fired up about scrums, refs, penalties, much of the interview involved keeping out of his personal space, lobbing up only gentle questions. But height, weight and breadth are not the lasting memories. Asked by two women what was, the flippant answer was "biceps".

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They wanted details. There isn't much to say, other than when video live streaming a Sam Warburton press conference one of the viewers (female) posted she wanted to listen to what was being said, but was distracted by his biceps.

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And she was right. Lions have biceps. Big biceps. Brimming with biceps, they are. TV doesn't do it justice. And it's not just the forwards, Lions centre Jonathan Davies has more arms than your average army battalion. So biceps were a lasting memory. Visually, the All Blacks were not so well armed, they were sleek thoroughbreds against bulky Clydesdales.

While it wasn't always obvious, Warren Gatland had a few jokes up his sleeve. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

ONE LINERS: "Nice to see the sun came up," Steve Hansen the morning after the second test loss.

"We're going for a few days skiing," Warren Gatland on why the Lions were headed for Queenstown for a few days. No one laughed, so he had to add "that was a joke".

"He'll be lying in a gutter somewhere," advice from a Scotsman on how to find a Welshman in Dunedin.

"I hope it was a happy clown," Gatland again, on being portrayed as a cartoon clown in a newspaper. He wore a clown nose to his final post-test presser.

"Probably mine. Mine was in traffic," smiling, Steven Luatua judges his offload in the Blues' winning try to be better than SBW's.

Sean O'Brien finishes off a sweeping Lions move. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

BEST TRIES: Lions loosie Sean O'Brien in the first test, a length of the field ripper that started inside the Lions 22m with fullback Liam Williams evading a charging Read.

For the grey haired among us, it recalled the Barbarians try scored by Gareth Edwards against the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973, only in colour and without the hazy TV picture.

At No 2 is the Blues try that did for the Lions in the second tour match, when offloads by Luatua and Sonny Bill Williams uncorked a grim defence to send replacement first five Ihaia West scurrying to the goalline.

The Maori All Blacks might've peaked during the haka, but what a haka it was. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

BIG MOMENTS: So, so many. Ruling out the two tries above, and using unreliable memory cells only...Sonny Bill Williams being sent off in the second test, could that be the defining moment of the tour?

Referee Romain Poite changing his mind at Eden Park, with Lions captain Sam Warburton quick enough in the white heat of the moment to raise the possibility he'd got it wrong; a try saving tackle by Israel Dagg in the first, then Lions No 8 Taulupe Faletau winning their one-on-one encounter at Westpac Stadium; Ngani Laumape getting away a third-test offload while in the clutches of Jonathan Davies and Owen Farrell, two brilliant defenders.

Cameos: Marty Banks kicking the winning penalty for the Highlanders, the New Zealand Maori haka emerging through the mist (fireworks smoke) in an eerie challenge at Rotorua; a Hurricanes comeback with ball of muscle Laumape to the fore. 

Conor Murray gets away one of his crafty box kicks. CREDIT: REUTERS

BEST PLAYERS: In the Lions, centre Jonathan Davies gave plenty on attack, and the All Blacks not much on defence; lock Maro Itoje played himself into the test team where he was an annoying energy bunny wherever he roamed; halfback Conor Murray, box kicker and try scorer extraordinare; Faletau, touted by Zinzan Brooke as lacking "mongrel" before the series, then spending his time rabidly mauling the opposition.

In the All Blacks, it is tougher; locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock were models of consistency in three torrid tests, while other All Blacks yo-yoed in form. Let's go for feisty halfback Aaron Smith and hooker Codie Taylor with a nod to new boys Jordie Barrett and Laumape.

BEST STADIUM: Forsyth Barr in Dunedin. With a top on it, there's no topping it for spectators; you're close to the action and out of the rain/sleet/snow. Great view, great shelter, great, great, great. If you had to chose one place to watch rugby until the end of your days, there we have it.

Steve Hansen developed a couple of 'Hansenism' during the Lions tour. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

TALK LIKE A RUGBY PLAYER: "Learnings" is what you get from every player and every coach about every part of every game at every press conference. Please stop.

"Pictures", players have to see good pictures on the field. "Excited" (not anxious) is what players are before a test match, all of the players, in nearly every sentence. "It's not about the individual, it's about the team", trotted out when a player gets asked about anything good they've done. 

"It's just a game", a Steve Hansen regular. "There's a process", another Hansenism, used when asked about referees. "Losing sucks", Hansen again, he doesn't get to say it much after games, but it's a pre-game entree (drawing also sucks, it seems). "Energy, accuracy, physicality", all good things, which teams apparently spend a lot of time looking for.

OVERALL: Marvellous sporting stuff, tension, drama, real test matches with cut and thrust, big personalities such as the laconic Hansen, the dour Gatland, the divisive Sonny Bill Williams, the diplomatic Warburton, and the vacillating Poite. God forbid the Lions concept is ever shelved, it is at the core of what many love about sport.​

 - Stuff


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