As the British and Irish Lions concluded their recent series in South Africa with a defeat in the deciding test, and one of the most joyless tours featuring near non-stop bickering between the rival camps on and off the pitch came to an end, my thoughts turned to the Chiefs and what they built this year under stand-in head coach Clayton McMillan.
Because what McMillan constructed on the wreckage of the year before is a testament to his calm methodology and ability to get his players believing themselves again. Hopefully, for their sake in particular, not too much changes on Warren Gatland's return to the Chiefs.
It was an odd decision by the franchise and New Zealand Rugby to sign Gatland on a contract which allowed him a year off to coach the Lions and it has played out about as poorly as it could have.
Clearly the powers that be were desperate in 2019 to get a Kiwi coaching heavyweight back in the mix back in the knowledge that Steve Hansen was stepping down as All Blacks coach after the World Cup in Japan, and yet, well, the potential pitfalls were deep and not entirely well hidden.
There was always the danger that Gatland could have a poor year on his return to New Zealand from coaching Wales and that his temporary replacement would have success coaching the likes of Anton Lienert-Brown and Brad Weber, and so it has come to pass; with the added stinger being that the Lions lost the series against a woefully underprepared Boks side and played a turgid style of game (two tries in three tests, none scored by backs) in the process.
The Chiefs failed to win a match in eight Super Rugby Aotearoa games in 2020, a record-breaking turn of events. A year later and after starting the season with two defeats, McMillan took them to the Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in Christchurch. The Chiefs had earlier beaten the Crusaders 26-25 in Hamilton.
McMillan will now turn his attention to being Gatland's assistant for the next two years but in the interests of the group dynamic, Gatland may do well to take a hands-off approach next season at least as the Chiefs get used to having him around again.
Of course, McMillan, who joined the Chiefs last year, was well aware of the contractual arrangements, saying in April: "I want to take this opportunity... I know a lot's been written in the media about the team going well and Gats being away, [but] our team is only going to be better for that man being involved with this environment.
"I always knew coming into this that it was going to be an interim role if Gats is coming back. And one of the real attractions for me was to work alongside a man of that level of experience. And absolutely nothing has changed."
The players didn't get that choice, though, and they were the ones who didn't perform for Gatland in 2020. Yes, there were several close losses and the Chiefs had more than their fair share of injury problems, but this is a results business.
It's also, more or less, an entertainment business, and while the Boks, who didn't play a test last year due to Covid and in fact had played only one test – against Georgia at Loftus Versfeld – before the Lions series, resorted to type: a direct, albeit limited attacking approach, the Lions' response was disappointing to say the least.
Against a backdrop of social unrest and lockdowns in South Africa, plus an astonishing rant against the match officials by Boks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, the Lions played an overly conservative style which would have won them few new fans.
The three tests were notable for their intensity, but also an almost uniform no-risks mentality.
The nadir for the Lions probably came in the third test when fullback Liam Williams, in a clear two-on-one attacking situation, dummied to Josh Adams when a pass would have sent the right wing on a clear run to the line and his team to potentially a 17-3 lead.
Strangely, Gatland, who led the Lions to their tours of Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017, the latter a drawn series not without controversy after he accused the All Blacks of trying to injure halfback Conor Murray, is still in the frame for the Lions tour of Australia in 2025.
After the latest soulless series, one admittedly played in front of empty stadiums, it's probably time someone else was given a go and the same could be said of the Chiefs.