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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 25 July, 2017
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Gatland the clown proud of Lions' achievement in New Zealand

‘This group of players have shown unbelievable character, it’s been a tough tour.’

Murray Kinsella reports from Eden Park

AFTER A SLIGHTLY surreal match, a rather odd post-match press conference too.

Steve Hansen had already spoken, flanked by captain Kieran Read and assistant coach Ian Foster, before Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton entered the media room at Eden Park.

Completely straight faced, Gatland was wearing a clown’s red nose. Cue laughter.

Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland Gatland with All Blacks boss Steve Hansen. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Lions boss sat down and just as we wondered if he would begin answering questions with the clown nose still on, he slipped it off and into his pocket, breaking into a quick grin.

“It was my idea,” said Gatland when asked about the gag. “I had it last week but I didn’t think it was right time to wear it!”

The nose was, of course, in reference to the New Zealand Herald having mocked Gatland up as a clown again in the week of the second Test, as well as suggesting the Lions boss was unravelling.

Though his side will leave New Zealand on Tuesday having drawn the series, Gatland will feel like he has tasted victory and made a fool of those who dubbed him a clown.

“We’ll reflect on tonight and just say, given the schedule, to come to New Zealand and draw, you’ve got to be pretty proud,” said Gatland.

“Both teams are frustrated, thinking a win would have been nice, and we felt we didn’t play that well tonight. It was a game for defences tonight, a lot of turnovers by both teams.

“For us, to come here and draw a series in New Zealand it feels like some achievement, especially considering we were totally written off with the predictions for a 3-0 whitewash.

“And this group of players have shown unbelievable character, it’s been a tough tour.”

Rather unsurprisingly, Gatland wasn’t of the view that the All Blacks had been hard done by after the key refereeing decision of the game from Romain Poite, who changed a late penalty decision to a scrum in controversial fashion.

In fact, Gatland felt the Lions should have had a penalty in that instance, when Liam Williams’ knock-on was briefly caught by Ken Owens.

Jamie George, Rhys Webb, Israel Dagg, Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens and Ardie Savea after the game The Lions and All Blacks shared the spoils. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I thought it was a penalty to us, I thought Kieran Read jumped into [Williams], I don’t think he had any chance of getting his hand on that,” said Gatland.

“I thought he’d hit the player in the air. I can understand, the ball’s landed in Ken Owens’ arms, and the man next to me [Warburton] has been quite smart and astute in being able to talk the referee from a penalty into an accidental offside.

“We would have been devastated as a group to have lost the game from that kick-off.

“I was disappointed with the scrum penalty under the posts [against Kyle Sinckler], but it’s swings and roundabouts. I thought the result was probably a fair reflection of where the tour is, in two quality sides going hard at each other.”

Gatland’s achievements with the Lions on this tour and in Australia in 2013, as well as having been an assistant coach in 2009, mean some will already be wondering if the Kiwi could do another tour as a head coach.

While Gatland points out that a lot can happen between now and South Africa in 2021, there is a strong hint of interest in his answer.

“It’s water under the bridge before that,” said Gatland. “Eddie [Jones] has put his name forward hasn’t he?

“My focus is Wales, the autumn, looking towards 2019. I’m definitely finishing there unless they get rid of me before that. I might just go to the beach and put my feet up for a while.

“But you never say never. If there’s a chat and opportunity to think about 2021, to do maybe the three as a head coach, to win two and draw one wouldn’t be bad achievement.”

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