Warren Gatland believes he might be the only coach who could have guided the British and Irish Lions to their Test series draw with New Zealand.
The Lions boss admitted there were times he hated the 2017 tour of his homeland, where the local media turned criticism personal on a number of occasions.
Gatland had always expected a certain level of flak as a Kiwi leading the tourists, but not the invective that came his way as the Lions won the second Test 24-21 and then drew Saturday’s final clash 15-15 to seal a share of the spoils.
However, the Wales boss conceded he knew the risks associated with taking the Lions head coaching job for a second-straight tour, especially after claiming a series win in Australia in 2013.
“I thought it was a hiding to nothing,” said Gatland of opting to lead the Lions for a second tour in succession.
“It is one of those positions that you are offered and it’s very difficult to walk away from.
“Trying to win in New Zealand is the ultimate challenge.
“When I reflected on it I felt if I wasn’t offered the position it would have been fine. Once I was offered the job you can’t walk away from that sort of challenge, particularly someone like myself when you are competitive.
“I think if anyone else had been doing it, we might not have drawn the series.”
The New Zealand Herald mocked up Gatland as a clown in a front-page caricature that upset the Lions boss given its direct personal nature.
Gatland has stated throughout the tour, however, that the Lions received a fine welcome from the New Zealand people – and he even insisted he maintains a good relationship with All Blacks boss Steve Hansen.
Gatland firmly believes he was able to turn his understanding of the New Zealand psyche to the tourists’ advantage, and will now leave the Land of the Long White Cloud feeling vindicated by his performance as Lions boss.
The Lions have still only ever won one Test series in New Zealand, back in 1971. But their 2017 draw now ranks as their second-most successful return against the All Blacks.