The 2021 British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa is in the books and already thoughts are turning to 2025.
After a Test series against the Springboks that went down to the wire, with Morné Steyn delivering the winning blow just as he had 12 years earlier, the Lions will be eager to bounce back against Australia.
And Warren Gatland, the Head Coach on each of the past three Lions Tours, is only too aware of how much experience on a previous Tour can help players next time around.
You only have to look at the examples of Conor Murray and Owen Farrell – both used off the bench against the Wallabies in 2013 before becoming Test starters across the drawn series in New Zealand four years later.
Or this time around, Robbie Henshaw established himself as a key man in the midfield for the Lions, starting all three Tests alongside different partners in each game, four years after he had not featured against the All Blacks.
Gatland singled him out as the perfect example of how a player can use their previous Lions experience to take on a bigger role next time around.
He said: “There are players who haven’t been involved (in the Test series) but their experience from this will hold them in really good stead for their international teams and in four years’ time.
“A really good example is Robbie Henshaw, who I thought was excellent. He probably learnt from the experience four years’ ago and then brought him on, improved him as a player.”
As for who might fall into that category in 2025, there are a number of players who caught the eye in midweek action without getting the call-up to the Tests.
Marcus Smith enjoyed a brilliant end to the season, leading Harlequins to an unlikely title, making his England debut and then being called up to the Lions mid-Tour. He shone in his sole appearance against the Stormers, but looks a prime candidate to use that experience when the next Tour comes around.
And the fact that he was able to train alongside the likes of Murray and Farrell, each appearing on their third Tours, not to mention skipper Alun Wyn Jones on his fourth, will only have helped the likes of Smith and fellow youngster Louis Rees-Zammit.
Gatland added: “I’m incredibly proud of my involvement and have been very fortunate. I’m very passionate about the Lions. I hope the new players have learnt a lot from this Tour, not just from playing.
“But also from the players around them in terms of the top players in the squad, their professionalism and the way that they train and all the extras that they do.
“I think they would have benefitted from that. I think Marcus Smith is going to be a superstar in the game, I think he is incredibly talented – he has an incredible amount of talent.”
It is far too early to predict who will and won’t be involved with the Lions in 2025, but you can be sure that there will be an important part to play for some players who missed out on a Test jersey in South Africa.