Coach Warren Gatland and skipper Alun Wyn Jones paid tribute to the impact of the reserves bench after the British and Irish Lions’ thumping series win over the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.
The Lions finished their 10-match, five-week tour with their best performance in dispatching the Australians four tries to one in a comprehensive 41-16 win for their first series triumph in 16 years.
The tourists got off to a flyer, scoring a converted try inside two minutes, and they were never headed as they totted up three tries in the final 25 minutes to finish well ahead of the Wallabies.
Lock Jones, leading the Lions for the first time after the controversial omission of former skipper Brian O’Driscoll, said he almost was out on his feet in the last 20 minutes, but the impetus of fresh legs off the bench lifted him.
Gatland threw on all his eight replacements in the last 30 minutes as the Wallabies were threatening at 19-16 to go on and win after fighting back from 19-3 down.
“Penalties early in the second half and there were a lot of boys with a lot of character out on the pitch, and to see that come to fruition when the likes of Conor (Murray) came on at nine and Fazzer (Owen Farrell) at 10 and we go into the ascendancy,” Jones said.
“We kicked on when the boys came off the bench. I was digging in the last 20, I’m not afraid to say that. When you’ve got boys coming on and picking you up, it’s a great feeling.”
Gatland said a major part of his game plan for the final Test was selecting the right replacements to add some zing into the Lions, who flagged late in Australia’s 16-15 second Test win in Melbourne last weekend.
“The plan all along was to use the whole bench. We felt the bench was pretty strong. (Scrum-half) Conor Murray came on and kept the momentum of the game going. I spoke to (flanker) Sean O’Brien afterwards, he ran himself into the ground,” the coach said.
“The momentum on the bench was particularly important, especially with Australia picking six-two (forwards/backs) split on the bench and possibly worried about the physicality up front.
“I thought they showed great composure. At 19-16 Australia came back and put us under a bit of pressure and we showed great composure.
“I just kept saying if they are going to score, they are going to have to go 70 or 80 metres, keeping putting them under pressure, keep making those tackles.
“Sometimes the guys coming off the bench give everyone a lift and build the momentum and that definitely happened tonight.”