Saturday 21 October 2017

O'Driscoll axe harks back to Ireland's 2001 Grand Slam loss – Gatland

Conor George

Conor George

Warren Gatland revealed that the conviction that it was right – in his opinion – to drop Brian O'Driscoll had its genesis, ironically, in his time as coach of Ireland.

The Lions and Wales coach referenced a lost opportunity with Ireland to win a Grand Slam title as being one of the defining moments in his coaching career.

"We had a chance to win a Grand Slam in a game against Scotland 11 or 12 years ago (2001)," recalled Gatland. "After that, I promised myself I would always stick to my convictions when it came to a selection issue. Not including Brian was tough but it was the right rugby decision.

"I am sure we'd have won on Saturday with him if we played the way we did but I made a decision because it was what I thought was best for the team.

"That day with Ireland we lost an away game to Scotland which cost us a Grand Slam. Tactically, I changed the way we played, influenced by some selections. I promised myself I would never do that again, that I would never back down from what I felt would be the right decision.

DECISION

"On 50-50 calls you can be swayed by other coaches, but when you believe deep down it's the right decision you've got to back yourself 100pc. I'd rather make what I thought was the right decision than have any regrets afterwards. I'm proud that I've continued to do that following that experience with Ireland 12 years ago."

It says much for O'Driscoll's stature that the decision to omit him from the squad for the third and final Test was still dominating the press conference the morning after a first Lions Test series win in 16 years.

Manager Andy Irvine again piled on the rhetoric in praise of O'Driscoll.

"He is the best player of the last 30 years," said Irvine. "And he is one of the greatest of all time."

Gatland gave an insight into how the fall-out from the O'Driscoll selection decision impacted on him in terms of the feedback and "vitriolic" abuse he was subjected to.

"There can be a fall-out and it can be quite aggressive. It's pretty anonymous as well. You learn from your experiences and you make sure you're better prepared going forward," he said.

Gatland suggested heavily that he might be interested in coaching the Lions on the tour to New Zealand in four years' time. It's also possible, however, he might be coaching the All Blacks against the Lions.

His contract with Wales runs until the 2015 World Cup when he will assess his options.

"If everything was right I might be tempted (by the Lions). But equally I might hang the boots up and enjoy a glass of red wine and a cigar on a beach ... who knows?"

Irish Independent

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