Just one more week’s preparation and the British and Irish Lions would have won this series.
The 15-15 draw with New Zealand in Saturday’s final Test at Eden Park left both teams flummoxed, and spectators confused and underwhelmed.
The series ended one win apiece - and in the event there was to be no separating the Lions and the back-to-back world champions.
That such a tense, fraught and hugely exciting three-match Test series could end without a winner was a huge frustration.
The administrators must be held to account for not building in the potential for extra time in the final Test, were the scores and the series in deadlock at full-time.
Extra time has worked well in club competition, and there is no reason why it would not have suited here. Surely both sets of players and coaches would have wanted to end a hectic six weeks with one team victorious.
That the Lions pushed the All Blacks right to the wire will always stand hugely in their credit, though.
Just one more week between the Aviva Premiership and PRO12 play-off finals and the Lions jetting halfway round the world, and Warren Gatland would have turned the class of 2017 into history boys.
Rugby’s money men and the power brokers care more about end-of-season club play-offs than the Lions traditions, however. And so the famed tourists leave New Zealand with an honourable drawn series but the ludicrous scenario remains that the Lions’ very future is still on the line.
There is still no agreement on the touring schedule for the next 12 years, as rugby’s global calendar negotiations for beyond 2019 continue to be thrashed out.
The clubs, the national unions and governing body World Rugby all have agendas that back the Lions into an unenviable corner.
Just two days after the British and Irish club play-off finals, the Lions hit the skies for New Zealand. Three days after arriving, head coach Gatland’s men played their first game.
And yet from the jet-lagged rabble that squeaked past the Provincial Barbarians 13-7, the Lions steadily built into a roaring unit.
Their 24-21 second Test victory and third Test 15-15 draw stand out as huge achievements. And yet the Lions will still leave New Zealand with a sour taste in the mouths - because they will feel they could so easily have stolen just a second-ever series win in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
This tour - against greater odds than any previous Lions endeavour - is proof positive that 41 strangers can still become a Test match unit in six weeks.
Try telling the 20,000 travelling fans who cannot stop chanting Maro Itoje’s name that the Lions’ future remains under threat.
The club bodies cling to their pay-day play-off finals, while World Rugby prioritises a streamlined global calendar above all else.
That leaves the Lions stuck in the middle. The world’s administrators simply must find a consensus to let this blessed organisation thrive.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
“Truly brilliant game, massive well done to Gatland & all involved, game was special & nobody deserved 2 lose but huge courage from Lions.” - Former Lions coach Clive Woodward.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Owen Farrell’s nerveless penalty three minutes from time snatched the Lions a stunning and against-all-odds draw. The England star kept his cool to ensure the tourists claimed a share of the spoils.
STAR MAN - JONATHAN DAVIES
Another sumptuous performance from the Wales centre. His two bullish hits on full-back Jordie Barrett summed up his mixture of industry and ingenuity.
AN UNFAMILIAR FEELING
Captains Sam Warburton and Kieran Read had to collect the Lions series trophy jointly, such was the oddity of the drawn series. And both skippers clearly felt awkward on accepting the trophy together.