Graham Rowntree says the relationship between coaches and players on the Lions’ summer tour of New Zealand was as strong as he has ever experienced.
Though the Lions secured an impressive series draw with the world champions, flanker Sean O’Brien said the tourists could have been better prepared.
Rowntree, who was part of the Lions coaching team for a third time, says he is “very proud” of what was achieved.
“We had an outstanding relationship with the players,” he said.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 live, he added: “It was better than any other Lions tour I have been on.
“We were there as coaches to facilitate the sessions, but ultimately [the players] will run the show.”
The Lions’ 10-game tour was described as “suicidal” by former All Blacks head coach Sir Graham Henry.
But after they were well beaten in the first Test in Auckland, Warren Gatland’s men won in Wellington before drawing the decider at Eden Park.
|Lions tour results|
|3 June||Provincial Barbarians||Won 13-7|
|7 June||Blues||Lost 22-16|
|10 June||Crusaders||Won 12-3|
|13 June||Highlanders||Lost 23-22|
|17 June||Maori All Blacks||Won 32-10|
|20 June||Chiefs||Won 34-6|
|24 June||New Zealand||Lost 30-15|
|27 June||Hurricanes||Drew 31-31|
|1 July||New Zealand||Won 24-21|
|8 July||New Zealand||Drew 15-15|
“It was an unbelievable experience; probably the toughest challenge you can get as a coach, in that environment,” Rowntree added.
“We went down there to try and win the series and we had a group capable of winning the series. To draw it, especially after what happened in the first Test, I was proud.”
Rowntree says the coaching staff will feel some lingering regrets, but he remains satisfied with what was achieved.
“You are always questioning yourself and any good coach should be doing that,” said the former England forwards coach. “I’m sure we will all have a few little regrets.
“A lot of people had written us off, we hadn’t internally, but to get something out of it, I was proud. I’ll look back on a very enjoyable and hard experience.”
After working with an “exceptional” coaching team in the summer, Rowntree has returned to club duties with Harlequins, and is preparing the side for Saturday’s Champions Cup opener against La Rochelle.
Despite his extensive experience with England and the Lions, Rowntree says he is still “evolving as a coach”, and is enjoying working with the younger members of the Quins staff, including attack coach Nick Evans and defence coach Nick Easter.
“The day I stop learning as a coach is the day I stop coaching,” he said.
“Nick Evans is a young, ambitious coach who has brought tremendous energy. Nick Easter has always been a great rugby brain and I’ve been impressed with him as a coach. He has really taken to coaching.
“Adam Jones as a player/coach has been invaluable to me, the players hang on every word he is saying. We’ve got a lot of good stuff going on here.”
And Rowntree admits it is “everything” for the club to start their European campaign well this weekend.
“Qualifying for the Champions Cup last year was a big target of ours, but we want to achieve higher this year. We need a big kick-start to this campaign.”