Sixteen long years after their last series victory in the southern hemisphere, the British and Irish Lions rediscovered the best of themselves yesterday, eventually running Australia off their feet in a record-breaking 41-16 win. It was their finest moment in almost four decades.
Leigh Halfpenny kicked 21 points – a Lions best – to take his tally over the three Tests to 49, eight more than Neil Jenkins's record of 1997.
Yet Warren Gatland was subdued in his response to the triumph after being criticised, most vehemently on social media, for leaving out Brian O'Driscoll. The head coach said: "I've been absolutely shocked by the reaction. I'd almost say it's been vitriolic. It's my job to take tough decisions and I always stick to my guns."
The criticism was pointed at the fact the Irish centre was denied a last red-shirted hurrah on his fourth and final tour, but Gatland made it clear that the torrent of abuse had damaged him.
"It's true that people are entitled to their opinions. But I haven't enjoyed the last 72 hours and I'm not taking a lot of pleasure in feeling vindicated," he added.
His opposite number and fellow New Zealander, the former All Black full-back Robbie Deans, found yesterday's events in one of the world's great stadiums even harder to take. Rumoured in many Australian rugby quarters to be in the final weeks of a long stint as Wallabies coach, Deans admitted that his side had finished a distant second to a touring side who had clinched a series with a final-Test win for only the third time in their 122-year history.
"We had a horrific start, gave the Lions access to the game and they profited from it," he lamented. "When we got back to within three points, the game was on again. Then we gave them access once more… and you know the rest. They used their set-piece to great advantage and once they had that momentum, they fed off it. We were very conscious that we had to take them out of their comfort zone, but we came up well short. It's disappointing, because this Australian side is better than that."
Asked about his future he could only shrug. "Who knows?" he said. "Those sorts of decisions are made by others."
The Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones, who had the Lions leadership suddenly thrust upon him after an injury to the tour captain, Sam Warburton, and the unexpected axing of O'Driscoll, seemed more bewildered than joyful. "I'm outside the moment right now," he said. "Speak to me on Wednesday and I might be able to tell you how I feel."Reuse content