Willie John McBride believes the British and Irish Lions may have been saved from extinction by the performance of this year's side in New Zealand.

The Lions surprised the world champions by recovering from defeat in the first Test to claim a share of the spoils in a drawn three-match series.

The viability of the Lions, a composite side of four nations making a lengthy tour every four years, is often debated because of the position in the world game's calendar.

But McBride, a star of the last Lions side to win a series in New Zealand in 1971, wants to see the concept preserved and thinks the performance of Warren Gatland's team has underlined its important and unique status.

McBride told the BBC: "It's a tremendous achievement and, quite honestly, I think it has shocked a few people.

"A lot of people had written them off before they left because they didn't really have enough time to put the team together. They have done a remarkable job.

"I think that this has, in many ways, saved the Lions.

"The concept is really unique and has gone now for well over 100 years. It would be dreadful in this professional era if it was ever messed around with."

McBride believes Lions tours should be even longer. This summer's schedule saw the Lions play three Tests and seven other matches over five weeks, a much shortened fixture list than in McBride's day.

In 1971, for example, the Lions played 26 games, including four Tests, and were in New Zealand for three months.

McBride, who played 17 Lions Tests as well as 63 for Ireland, said: "The one thing I feel sorry about is that the tour is actually too short. There are some tremendous players on this tour and they really haven't had the time to gel together.

"Rugby is about a team. It's probably the biggest team game you could possibly play. I think they have done remarkably well to put the team together that they did."

McBride, however, does not believe the Lions should start playing matches at home, an idea recently revived by Sir Graham Henry, a former Lions and All Blacks coach.

McBride said: "He must have had the head wobbles because the Lions concept is really about a touring team. My answer to that is no. The concept of the Lions was to tour. To play at home would be a nonsense."