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Gatland factors in interpretation of rules in his team selection


Sean O'Brien. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Sean O'Brien. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Rob Kearney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Rob Kearney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE


Sean O'Brien. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

COACH Warren Gatland had the look of a man who was not quite sure what he'd seen at the Suncorp Stadium.

Sure, the Lions won the first Test. Even surer, it was not the blueprint for the first test series win since 1997 in South Africa.

Gatland's difficult decision to prefer Dan Lydiate to Seán O'Brien on the bench came down to trust. He can trust the Wales blindside to keep his discipline.

This is why he has not opted for O'Brien because of the Carlow man's tendency to overplay his hand, particularly at the breakdown.

The simply one-eyed, non-rugby officiating of Chris Pollock in the first Test would have been unsuitable for O'Brien's natural inclination to play to the limit of the laws and beyond.

As it stood, Brian O'Driscoll was twice whistled by Pollock and Paul O'Connell was once rebuked for what would have been painted as textbook steals in the northern hemisphere.

Former Wallaby Rod Kafer was on the mark when he condemned the Lions for not doing their homework on Pollock. The referee's decisions were totally in keeping with his style.

This throws forward the theory that Gatland must put greater thought into which players, especially in the back row, best suit the referees for test two, South African Craig Joubert, and test three, Frenchman Romain Poite.

If Joubert stays true to his historical record, there will be all manner of openings for back rows to fetch the ball on the floor given how he literally ignored New Zealand's blatant illegality there in the 2011 World Cup final.

For a referee who allows a contest at the breakdown, O'Brien might be a better option than Dan Lydiate to cover the back row for the second Test. O'Brien can play all three positions, while Lydiate is limited to one at blindside.

O'Brien can also deliver the type of explosive, close-quarter, go-forward ball outside the scope of likely starters Jamie Heaslip, Tom Croft and Sam Warburton.

The simple fact that Lydiate has been called to arms against the Melbourne Rebels tomorrow suggests Gatland is either contemplating a change of heart or giving the Welshman game time to get him back to 100pc.

Rob Kearney, O'Brien, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo will all have to put the personal disappointment of not making test selection to one side to further the greater good of this Lions tour.

Full-back Kearney has not been able to have a fair crack of the whip because of injury and the indispensable goal-kicking of Leigh Halfpenny. He has looked sharp.

Scrum-half Conor Murray is, rightly or wrongly, seen as a version of Mike Phillips-light. He will only enter into test consideration if Phillips falls foul of injury. Wing Zebo is in bonus territory, making the long hop from Houston to Australia as emergency cover. He has done his profile no harm at all by looking at home in this red jersey.

Melbourne Rebels: J Woodward; T English, M Inman, R Sidey, L Mitchell; B Hegarty, L Burgess; N Henderson, G Robinson, L Weeks, C Neville, H Pyle, J Saffy, S Fuglistaller, G Delve (capt).

The Lions: R Kearney; S Maitland, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, S Zebo; O Farrell, C Murray; R Grant, R Hibbard, D Cole, R Gray, I Evans, D Lydiate, S O'Brien, T Faletau.