Sport

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Gatland: Selection criticism made last 72 hours very tough

Duncan Bech

Published 06/07/2013|16:32

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Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland is unable to enjoy the British and Irish Lions' first series victory for 16 years due to the "vitriolic" criticism he received over team selection.

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The build up to today's 41-16 rout of Australia in the pivotal Test at ANZ Stadium was dominated by the furore over the decision to drop four-time tourist Brian O'Driscoll.

Gatland's preference for 10 of his Wales players was also questioned, but his judgement received the best possible vindication with the four-try demolition of pre-match favourites Australia.

However, the Lions' head coach was stung by the reaction to O'Driscoll's omission to the extent it will take weeks for what the 2013 squad has achieved to register.

"I was absolutely shocked by what was said. It was vitriolic almost in terms of the criticism," he said.

"We made a tough call and we knew there would be some fallout from it, but there have been other players who have been unlucky on this tour in terms of selection.

"I haven't taken a lot of pleasure out of this in terms of feeling vindicated. I haven't enjoyed the last 72 hours, it's been tough personally.

"Maybe in a week or two I might get some pleasure out of this, but at the moment there isn't a lot of pleasure because of the amount of criticism that had been personally placed on me.

"That's why you're in the job, to make those tough calls. Every now and again one of them comes through and you get it right. I've always stuck by my guns.

"In Wales a couple of years ago I made a tough call dropping Martyn Williams for Sam Warburton. Sometimes you have to put your balls on the line."

The 30,000 Lions supporters who had descended on Sydney's sold out Olympic stadium could scarcely believe their eyes as Australia were put to the sword in a manner no one had predicted.

Tries were scored by Alex Corbisiero, Jonathan Sexton, George North and Jamie Roberts with three of them arriving in a dominant final half-hour which the Wallabies entered only 19-16 behind.

Leigh Halfpenny continued his astonishing form from the kicking tee by amassing 21 points, setting a record for points scored by a Lion in a Test, and was named man of the match.

It was a stunning climax to a series that had otherwise been impossible to call and Gatland revealed what was said at half time to inspire the tourists to one of the great victories in their 125-year history.

"We spoke about being prepared to go to a place that not many players go to in terms of pushing your body to the limit. The players did that by running themselves into the ground," he said.

"We've played some great rugby on this tour in the lead up games. The first Test was two tries each and it was tight last weekend. We were able to put it together in this game, especially in the second half.

"We came out with the attitude that we wanted to play some rugby and move the ball. Four tries was a vindication of how well we've played overall on this tour."

The foundations for victory were laid by a scrum that pulverised Australia virtually from start to finish, humiliating the Wallabies front row who saw Ben Alexander sent to the sin bin.

"The scrum was brilliant. I thought Alex Corbisiero was man of the match, around the field he was sensational and justified why we picked him," Gatland said.

"We said all along that he was unlucky not to make the original squad. He did a good job and I was really pleased with the impact and impetus the bench gave us."

Gatland has ordered the Lions - who celebrated with James Bond actor Daniel Craig after the game - to savour their achievement of repeating a series triumph not seen since South Africa in 1997.

"You have to enjoy those moments. The thing with Test rugby there's nothing in between agony and ecstasy," he said.

"When you get the ecstasy you have to enjoy that moment. Not just myself, everyone involved. Emotionally they have put so much into it.

"These guys have done themselves and the jersey proud. They deserve a huge amount of credit for what they've achieved. It's not just the 23 players, it's the whole squad, medical team and management.

"They have been exceptional on and off the field, I just hope the next 48 hours doesn't get out of hand!

"That's my big concern because we don't fly until Tuesday! The people involved have to enjoy the moment.

"I'm lucky to have been on two tours and 2009 was about restoring pride in the Lions' jersey and we felt we did that. This was about delivering a series and we achieved that.

"The pleasing thing for everyone is that we saw how special Lions tours can be and it is something to look forward to for the people involved in New Zealand in 2017."

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