Captains reunited: Warburton and Read reflect on ‘epic’ 2017 series


Captains reunited: Warburton and Read reflect on ‘epic’ 2017 series

Few tours will live as long in the memory as 2017, when The British & Irish Lions produced three courageous displays to claim a historic, but also bittersweet draw with New Zealand.

And who better to talk us through it about it than Sam Warburton, a man who captained the Lions to a series win in Australia in 2013 and draw in New Zealand in 2017?

The All Blacks were fearsome opposition, having not lost a home Test match since 2009, and boasted a host of exceptional players including Beauden Barrett, who in subsequent months would claim a second consecutive World Player of the Year crown.

Speaking with Kieran Read on his Captains with Sam Warburton podcast, Warburton reflected on the emotional strain, physical pain, and sense of making history that enshrouded the 2017 Tour.

“I left the 2017 Lions series and was deflated that we didn’t win,” the former Wales star said. “But everyone back home seemed delighted that we drew.

“I always thought that was a bit of a defeatist, negative mindset. Even, to this day, I think ‘we didn’t win’. If we had won, we would have beaten the best side in the world.”

After fighting through a series of provincial games, the Lions lost a disappointing first Test 30-15 before coming from behind to win 24-21 in the second clash.

In the final Test, it looked as if the hosts would preserve their astonishing record at Eden Park, where they had won every game since 1994, when they led 15-12 after 77 minutes.

Referee Romain Poite had blown for an offside penalty, but Warburton spoke with Poite and it was eventually given as an accidental offside, with Owen Farrell scoring an emphatic penalty after the resulting scrum.

The Lions had led for all of three minutes across the series but had somehow secured a thrilling 1-1 draw.

“I was on the phone to my mum and I found the pressure unbearable. I had moments of self-doubt and I’d never had that in my life,” he added.

On that fateful penalty call changing to a scrum, he said: “I remember waiting and it was like being on a cliff edge. I remember you [Read] nudged me and said ‘this is pretty cool, eh?’ I was so ‘oh my god, what’s going to happen?’

“I felt like, in those moments, there wasn’t much we could do once the ref started to look at it. I thought the perspective of what we were doing was pretty amazing. I thought it was a pretty epic moment. Just being there and being able to compete and it’s more than that too.”

Read was the opposing captain for that series and is one of New Zealand’s most capped and decorated players ever, accruing 128 appearances for the All Blacks and winning two Rugby World Cups.

He echoed Warburton’s feeling that after such a dauntless struggle, an occasion for the rugby history scrapbook, a draw somehow felt incomplete.

“I think I said it would have been great to keep playing,” said Read. “Everyone would have wanted it. But it’s a unique moment. When the final whistle went from the ref, it was such a weird thing. It felt hollow. What’s going on? Is this it? After such an epic battle, it didn’t really feel right, a draw.

“But once you get over that and realise this is what it is: we’re both up on the stage and think ‘let’s get everyone together.’”

It produced an “iconic sporting photo” in the eyes of Warburton, a sea of red and black jerseys mixed together, frozen in time to show the unity the rugby can create.

Read said: “Rugby is rugby because of that. You can try to knock each other’s heads off on the pitch and then walk off arm in arm and share a beer in the shed and talk about each other’s families. That’s the cool thing about rugby.

“I don’t know if that will ever happen again.”

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