Sunday 24 September 2017

Willie John McBride: I'm gutted at BOD omission

Former Lions captain Willie John McBride taken during the tour to South Africa in 1974. Photo: Allsport, Getty Images
Former Lions captain Willie John McBride taken during the tour to South Africa in 1974. Photo: Allsport, Getty Images

Alex Lowe

Willie John McBride expects Australia coach Robbie Deans will be delighted after the British and Irish Lions omitted Brian O'Driscoll from Saturday's decisive third Test in Sydney.

O'Driscoll was dropped as head coach Warren Gatland made six changes from last weekend's 16-15 defeat, with the returning Jamie Roberts to partner fellow Welshman Jonathan Davies in midfield.

Tipped by many to take over the captaincy with Sam Warburton and Paul O'Connell both out injured, O'Driscoll was axed from 23-man squad with Alun Wyn Jones to lead the team out at the Olympic Stadium.

McBride said he was "gutted" by O'Driscoll's omission and the 1974 Lions captain was not alone in his disagreement with Gatland's decision to jettison his most experienced player.

The former Ireland and Lions hooker Keith Wood described O'Driscoll's omission as a "massive mistake". New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter and former Wallaby centre Matt Giteau both expressed their surprise on Twitter.

McBride told BBC Radio 4: "I was absolutely gutted. The first thing that came into my mind was that Deans, the Australian coach, must be laughing all the way.

"The Australian media and others, Eddie Jones the previous Australian coach, have convinced them to drop O'Driscoll which I find amazing.

"He was the guy I would have tipped as captain of the tour. He has been a big influence so far. You live and die by the team you pick and we will see what Saturday brings.

"Brian O'Driscoll has been the greatest player we have ever produced in Ireland and I still think he is a major influence in any team."

Wood believes O'Driscoll's experience as a four-time Lions tourist with 125 caps to his name will be sorely missed and that Gatland has erred badly in not recognising the value of leadership.

"I've been uncomfortable throughout this tour whenever Warren Gatland has spoken about the captaincy," Wood told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He tries to depower it, he consistently says it isn't about leadership and that isn't the most important thing. Having been on two Lions tours myself under (former England skipper) Martin Johnson, I would have said the leadership of the captain was the most important thing.

"Brian O'Driscoll has been quiet in the two Tests but at every stage, he has been the clarion call once Paul O'Connell got injured. I just think Gatland has made a terrible mistake."

Roberts missed the first two Tests with a hamstring injury but he is fit to partner Davies in midfield and Wood believes a great rests on his shoulders as the Lions look to over-power the Wallabies.

"A huge amount rests on Jamie Roberts' shoulders and they were crying out for him in the last two weeks. I just think Brian's subtlety off him would have worked," Wood said.

"You can say (Gatland is) picking on form but he's picked an unbelievably direct team with very little guile in it, specifically to play this game plan.

"You're asking them to pulverise a team. The Lions are at the end of virtually 12 months of the season, all these guys are pretty tired and you're looking for the absolute maximum for it to work for them."

Gatland found support for his decision in the form of Simon Shaw, who was a star of the 2009 Lions tour and backed his former Wasps boss.

"Can't understand the flim flam over the lions selection. All players were selected at the outset as potential test players," Shaw tweeted.

"Everyone turns into an expert on international coaching all of a sudden. Garlands won 10 titles in club and international rugby inc 2 GSlams".

The Lions starting line-up for the Sydney Test match features 10 Welshmen, which has caused consternation in some quarters but is of no concern to McBride.

What bothers him more were the injury-enforced selection of Tom Court during the tour, who was called because he happened to be in Brisbane.

"I have heard a lot of talk about Welsh players. When you pick a Lions team they are Lions. They are not Welsh any longer," McBride said.

"I think the concept and the ethos of the Lions is beginning to slip and that worries me very much.

"They picked a player who was at home in Brisbane (Court) and happened to be there and they brought him in to the squad. He didn't earn his place in the squad.

"I don't think this is the concept of the Lions that I know."

Former Wales winger JJ Williams, a Lion in 1974 and 1977, later added his voice to those in shock at O'Driscoll's omission and felt it was a gamble to pick Roberts.

He told BBC Radio Five: "We're all surprised here. There's so many changes, there's no continuity at all in the selection or through the Test series.

"It's great for Wales to have 10 people, but no-one's biased enough to think 'we want more Welsh, English, Scottish or Irish in the side'. We just want a strong Lions team. We're all amazed at O'Driscoll."

He added: "I would have made a change in midfield, but I wouldn't have dropped O'Driscoll. I would have replaced Jonathan Davies. I would have put two Irish in the middle, just to add a little bit of spark there to go alongside O'Driscoll. It's a gamble to play Jamie Roberts - he's had hamstring trouble.

"But Gatland has gone back to type, gone back to his tried and trusted with Wales. We must remember we (Wales) have played Australia in the last 15 months about half a dozen times and we've failed each time - by trying this route down the middle of Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts on the charge and Mike Phillips doing the same thing.

"He's gone back to back, to see if he can win again. It's unlikely, isn't it? But that's what he wants, so we'll have to back him."

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