Gatland praises Robbie Henshaw and backs his Lions teammate for greatness
"He's incredibly talented."
Warren Gatland was asked, on several occasions, on Saturday if he would be open to coaching the British & Irish Lions again. If Marcus Smith is available, he may well be.
An assistant to Ian McGeechan in 2009, Gatland has been Lions head coach in 2013, 2017 and this year. Had the Lions beat the Springboks to clinch the Test Series, he would have surely walked away.
Now, with a defeat to mull over as he spends the next two weeks in a New Zealand hotel room [the country has a 14-day isolation period for incoming passengers], he may be tempted to go again in 2025.
Asked about the players that impressed him in South Africa, and who could form the core of the 2025 squad, Gatland spoke of Robbie Henshaw, Sam Simmons and Marcus Smith.
"I just hope that they've learned a lot from this tour," he said, "not so much on playing but from the other players around them in terms of the top players in the squad, in terms of their professionalism, the way they train, the extras they do, their recovery. They will definitely have benefited from that.
"Marcus Smith is going to be superstar in the game. I think he's incredibly talented. I think that if he was with one of the other four home nations, he'd definitely have been playing international rugby by now.
"Hopefully he gets that opportunity going forward because he's definitely got an incredible amount of talent.
"There are some players who haven't been involved but their experience from this will hold them in really good stead for their national teams, but if they do get picked in four years' time for another Lions tour, that experience will be invaluable for them.
"A really good example there is that Robbie Henshaw was excellent tonight and he probably learnt from the experience four years ago and that brought him on, and really improve him as a players. There will be a number of players here in the same boat.
"You have that mixture of really experienced players, players in the middle and some youngsters who will really grow from being part of the Lions."
Smith only won his England Test debut a week before he was called into the Lions squad. Simmonds, meanwhile, has excelled for Exeter Chiefs but England head coach Eddie Jones has been reluctant to use him in the Test arena.
As for Henshaw, he was the best Irish player of the Test Series [edging Tadhg Furlong] and will be 32 when the next series rolls around. If form and fitness stay with him, he would surely be pressing for a third tour.