Warren Gatland has revealed Lions captain Sam Warburton played a major role in convincing French referee Romain Poite to change his mind about the controversial offside ruling that robbed the All Blacks of a chance to win the series.
In stark contrast to the All Blacks who treated the drawn series like defeat, Gatland beamed with pride after the 15-all draw at Eden Park saw his men emerge with respect following a torrid six-week, 10 match tour in the world's leading rugby nation.
Gatland was so chuffed he even turned up to the post match press conference wearing a red nose - a crack back after being depicted as a clown.
"It was my idea," Gatland said. "I had it last week but I didn't think it was the right time to wear it. Everyone was talking about this being a 3-0 whitewash. This group of players has shown unbelievable character."
Ultimately, the Lions were unable to match the feats of Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Willie John McBride, JPR Williams and the rest of the 1971 team who remain the only team to win a series in New Zealand after 11 attempts. But, given the All Blacks only defeat at home in their last 49 tests came last week in Wellington, Gatland was satisfied.
Ironically, that '71 team also drew the final test of their four-match series 14-14 at Eden Park.
"If you'd said six weeks ago that we'd come to New Zealand and draw a test series we'd probably take that."
On Poite's decision, Gatland initially attempted to point the finger of fault at All Blacks captain Kieran Read who attempted to contest the kickoff after Owen Farrell banged over the penalty which tied the test.
"I thought it was a penalty to us. Kieran Read ran through... I don't think he's got any chance of getting his hand on that. He's hit the player in the air," Gatland claimed.
"The ball has come from that and landed in Ken Owens' arms and in fairness to the man next to me [Warburton] he's been quite smart and astute and been able to talk the referee from a penalty into an accidental offside. We would have been devastated as a group if we had lost the game from that.
"It swings in roundabouts. You sometimes get calls that go for you and calls that go against you. I thought the result was probably a fair reflection of where the tour was."
Warburton was thankful his pleading with Poite saw the referee reverse his decision, despite it being correct in the rule book.
"It's a shot to nothing at that point," Warburton said. "I just asked him to check for the accidental offside. They order a penalty and it's worth asking the question. The whole game he was pretty receptive at having a look at things which he might not have caught at first sight. A lot of referees in the past they make a call and they stick to it. This series they've been really good at having a look.
"If you question something 10-15 times a game they won't acknowledge what you're saying but I think less is more in those situations. Luckily he listened to the question and had a check again.
"When you think back to the World Cup when that happened with Scotland and Australia and they kicked the penalty. The Scots were angry with that and I remember thinking there's got to be an alternative because it's not a penalty offence in my opinion.
"I'm glad it was a scrum instead."
Clearly in a position of strength after presiding over a series win in Australia in 2009, Gatland left the door ajar for a return to the Lions.
"There's a lot of water under the bridge before then. Eddie [Jones] has put his hand up hasn't he? My focus now is back to Wales and looking forward to 2019. I'm definitely finishing there unless they get rid of men before then.
"I'm not too sure what's going to happen after that, whether I come home or look for something else. I might just got to the beach and put my feet up for a while.
"You never say never. Maybe after 2019 there's a chat an opportunity to think about 2021 and do three of them as a head coach. To win two and draw one wouldn't be a bad achievement."