IT’S OFTEN said everyone knows where they were when JFK was shot, well most rugby fans will remember where they were when the omission of Brian O’Driscoll was announced days before the defining third Test. When O’Driscoll’s name was absent at the press conference earlier, it was met with an almost shocked silence, and as news went viral, it was followed by an outpouring of indignation, incredulity and finally unabashed anger. Hell, even Niall from One Direction got involved in Team BOD. Within hours, the uproar had a name, BODgate.
So has Warren Gatland, a famously pragmatic coach, not given to sentiment, made the right call or will it be remembered as the moment he erroneously tipped the balance towards the Wallabies?
Was Gatland right to have dropped Brian O’Driscoll? NO says Bea Asprey
Brian O’Driscoll is the only player of the professional era to have been on four Lions tours, and with 133 Test caps to his name, his is simply an irreplaceable presence in the changing room or in the heat of battle.
Okay, so the legs have plenty of miles on the clock, but on this tour he has played with a smile on his face and let’s not forget, scored a couple of classy tries – albeit against sub-standard opposition. In short he’s rolled back the years. Fine player though Jonathan Davies is, this argument isn’t just about sentiment, O’Driscoll has in the main, delivered. Playing to Warren Gatland’s defensive gameplan in the Tests, he is the only Lion to have a 100% tackle rate – he’s made 23, and missed not one. Yep, nada, zilch. If porous holes were to be found coming from the Lions defence, they weren’t coming from the Leinsterman.
Furthermore, let’s talk about his leadership credentials in the wake of losing two members of the holy trinity of power, captain Sam Warburton and Paul O’Connell. O’Driscoll has led internationally more times than any other in the Northern Hemisphere captain, with his win-rate a none-too-shabby 62%. Granted, Alun Wyn Jones has captained Wales before, but leading the Lions requires unique skills. Being handed that responsibility barely 72hrs before the most important Lions Test in 16 years is the rugby equivalent of being given a lofted pass with an onrushing, smiling Jerry Collins in mid-flight.
Lastly, although O’Driscoll’s form in the Tests has been questioned on tour, with a few trio of penalties given against him, and a poor clearance kick in the second Test – even staunch supporter Keith Wood has admitted he was ‘quiet’ in Brisbane and Melbourne – with the Lions backed into a corner, there isn’t a better player to help them fight their way out. Waltzing O’Driscoll deserved to waltz one more time…
Was Gatland right to have dropped Brian O’Driscoll? YES says Owain Jones
To suggest the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll is about one man is to miss the bigger picture and Warren Gatland’s gameplan. In the second Test, without a platform up front, the Lions were creatively a busted flush, with not one measly linebreak. But this wasn’t Brian O’Driscoll’s fault alone, I hear you say. Correct, but with just 30 metres gained in both Tests and with age slowing the pistons of his early years, he has been deemed surplus to requirements for the greater good. Gatland has hedged his bets that the Lions midfield will not outfox and outwit Christian Leali’ifano and Adam Ashley Cooper. No, he’s planning on driving nearly 35 stone of West Walian beef straight into the guts of the Wallaby defence at mach speed, and while they’re at it, making sure James O’Connor will not be visiting Hungry Jacks any time soon. Step forward, Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts.
The pair form Wales’ most capped centre partnership – remember they were part of a Wales side that didn’t concede a try for the last four games of the Six Nations – and Gatland has made no secret of his admiration of Roberts as his defensive general. This is a man who doesn’t just stop the opposition, he knocks them back in the tackle and uses all of his 17st 4lb frame to break the all-important gainline. Gatland simply had to include him. Yes, in 2009, O’Driscoll and Roberts had a cosy relationship, but in 2013 they’ve had a fleeting fling, playing together for just 55mins against the part-timers of Combined Country XV. Gatland wasn’t prepared to take the risk when milliseconds of hesitation could decide the Test.
To assume Davies should make way for O’Driscoll is to do a disservice to the Llanelli Scarlet on this tour. He has arguably been the form centre of the tour, covering 270m in six games on tour with only George North, Sean Maitland and Alex Cuthbert have spirited themselves towards the opposition end with more success. A week before the first Test, against the Waratahs, it was O’Driscoll himself, was the first to acclaim the young West Walian’s performance as one of the most complete he’d witnessed.
So, if not in the team, why is the experience of O’Driscoll not required from the bench? Well, if you look at the hard-facts, the Lions backline is no kindergarten. They boast nearly 350 caps between them and have four players boasting previous Lions nous. The bench spot is filled, and I mean filled, by Manu Tuilagi, who can also cover on the wing. Tuilagi will undboubtedly be thrown into the fray in the late stages, to add ballast. BOD is already etched indelibly into Lions folklore, and that will not change regardless of the result. If Gatland’s bold selection is proved right, you’d wager he’d be the first squad member on the pitch with an outstretched hand offering heartfelt congratulations.
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