Lions uproar as Gatland comes under fire
Published 04/07/2013 | 05:00
WARREN GATLAND's decision to prematurely end Brian O'Driscoll's Lions career and pick 10 Welsh players for Saturday's final Test against Australia has devalued the traditions of the entire concept, according to former Ireland international Victor Costello.
The New Zealander announced what Lions hero Ollie Campbell described as "the biggest single selection decision" in the 125-year history of the combined team early yesterday morning – sparking a wave of outrage among Irish pundits and fans.
The Wales coach, who is on secondment to the Lions, made six changes to his side for the decisive Sydney Test. Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip joins O'Driscoll in the stand having been also axed, with Sean O'Brien starting at openside.
Costello, who played under former Ireland boss Gatland and with O'Driscoll, described the omission as "a devastating blow".
"My initial reaction when I woke up and heard the news was shock because it is the wrong decision, one that for a lot of people will effectively pull the rug from under what has been a great Lions series," he said.
"The tradition of the Lions has been affected, so for many reasons the anticipation for the weekend's game has been reduced.
"A Lions legend, the poster boy of the last 15 years during a time that is the pinnacle of the sport, will be in the crowd instead of on the pitch.
"The Lions will say that the show must go on, but the decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll has left a serious dent in the enjoyment of Saturday's game for many, many people in Britain and Ireland. There is no doubt it is the wrong call.
"Gatland believes he can win with this team, but personally I cannot see it."
Costello believes that Gatland is feeling the pressure of having to deliver a Test victory and made the wrong call as a result.
"Warren Gatland is under pressure and he has made the wrong decisions. The one guy who would be able to pull this series out of the bag is Brian O'Driscoll and he will be in the stand," he said.
Former Ireland out-half Campbell was left stunned by the team announcement that leaves the side skippered by Alun-Wyn Jones, who has led Wales once – against Japan.
The decision not to pick O'Driscoll and Heaslip means that Jones is the only player in the starting line-up who has ever skippered his country.
"I'm shocked. I didn't see that coming at all. Quite the opposite, in fact; not only did I think he would be named in the side to play but that he would captain the team as well," said Campbell.
"Without Sam Warburton and Paul O'Connell, in current terminology, it was a no-brainer.
"On the Richter Scale of Lions Test selections, this is right up there. I think this is a decision that will be talked about and discussed for years and decades to come.
"It's huge. In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's probably the biggest single selection decision in the history of the Lions."