Avoiding defeat on a British and Irish Lions tour is an achievement in itself, but Warren Gatland doesn’t want to leave any doubt as to who’s the best team in South Africa this summer.
The three-time Lions head coach knows what it’s like to finish a series all square having led the team to a shared result against New Zealand four years ago.
The tourists have gone in the opposite direction this time around, winning the first Test 22-17 before crumbling to a 27-9 loss in the second, with everything to play for in Cape Town this Saturday.
And Gatland has said he’d be up for seeing extra time as a means to settle the series if the scores are level at the end of the 80 minutes.
“Maybe that’s something that someone can talk about over the next few days, about whether we do potentially go to extra time if it is a draw. That’s not a bad idea,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Finishing level with the mighty All Blacks in 2017 was a major feat, but it was a result that left both camps feeling slightly discontent following all their hard work.
Sam Warburton and Kieran Read—captains of their respective Lions and All Blacks at the time—were pictured hoisting the tour trophy alongside one another following the rare result.
Steve Hansen, the then-New Zealand coach, famously described the outcome as “a bit like kissing your sister,” a sensation with which neither team would like to familiarise themselves this Saturday.
Similarly, the Lions would want a clear resolution to their series against reigning world champions South Africa, who will also be eager to emerge as clear-cut winners on home soil.
Gatland became just the second Lions coach to tie a series after drawing 15-15 in their New Zealand decider, not to mention the first since the tour switched to a three-Test format in 1989.
The only other series to end without a winner was the 1955 trip to South Africa, which ended with each side clinching two wins apiece.
Current rules stipulate this year’s series will indeed end in a draw if the scores finish level in the third and final Test, but organisers have shown a willingness to adapt on the fly in recent weeks.
Fixtures have been moved and schedules rearranged to accommodate following Covid-19 cases and such, meaning two 10-minute periods at the end of the game shouldn’t be hard to fit if required.
The difficulty lies in getting the two teams to come to a resolution, with tempers high as we reach the conclusion of a tense series, off the pitch as much as on it.
Gatland recently said he was “disappointed” to see the Lions named alongside South Africa and their director, Rassie Erasmus, in an independent misconduct hearing.
Fans can only hope for a close, competitive contest when the two teams reconvene in Cape Town, but perhaps not one so tight that extra time will even be a concern at the final whistle.
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