ONE OF the saddest sights of a spectacular sporting weekend was Warren Gatland talking at his press conference immediately after the Lions’ truly magnificent victory in Sydney, of his “mixed emotions” on a night of glory.
He didn’t, he said, feel “vindicated” after all the selectorial brou-ha-ha in the days before the match. He was clearly still shell-shocked by the brutality of the comments aimed in his direction – some by former Lions but mostly via social media and phone-ins – which questioned not just his ability, but his integrity in the run-up to the deciding match of the series.
There will doubtless be many inquests into the tour itinerary, and the way that Australia decided to treat the warm-up matches, but there does seem to be a belief, held by several key power-brokers in the sport, that if the Lions had lost the series, then a question mark might have been put over the long-term future of any such excursions.
Gatland would have been acutely aware of that, and having spoken repeatedly about his pride in the Lions ethos and his determination to orchestrate only the fifth ever winning series, knew the only thing that mattered on Saturday was the result.
It’s a long way back from Australia, and perhaps a few of you reading this are staggering in to work after 24 hours on a plane, still glowing and energised from the enormity of Saturday’s occasion. That is Gatland's achievement.
Rational debate before the match suggested that if Jamie Roberts had been fit from the outset, Brian O’Driscoll might not have played a single Test. Injuries to key players forced his hand to the point where, with the stakes so high, he chose a game plan that worked so successfully, that in the final 20 minutes the Lions were untouchable.
The Wallabies may not have been the greatest team, and their performances in the upcoming Championship with New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, will be interesting to monitor, but it was a selection that Gatland knew in advance would define his reputation as a coach.
In more relaxed and cheerful mode, 24 hours on, he spoke about the possibility of doing the job again in his native New Zealand in four years time, and even from this range, it’s hard to think of anyone more qualified for the job.
But for the moment, let’s just celebrate a man with the courage of his convictions, who really has been vindicated, and who proved he knew a lot more about rugby and picking teams than most of his critics put together.