| 23°C Dublin

There's still a fair chance Drico will marshal the Lions

I KNOW a man who knows a man – we'll call him Stan. Stan is one of those drivers-for-hire with blacked out windows.

COMMENT

Last week, he turned up at Dublin Airport the way he always does. He took his place and waited his turn to take the next customer wherever...

What do you know? British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland plonked himself into the seat behind him and away they went. The destination? The address of one Brian O'Driscoll.

The upshot was a brisk drive to south Dublin and an approximate two-hour wait between Gatland's entry and exit from 'chez O'Driscoll'. Gatland was swiftly returned to the airport and Stan made a stop-off at a bookmakers to wage €50 on the identity of the next man to lead the British & Irish Lions.

The implicit presumption was that Gatland had shown up at O'Driscoll's house to offer him the captaincy of the British & Irish Lions for the second time.

There is another possibility. For Gatland to make a success out of the tour, he will needs lieutenants to his general. There is no bigger name in the game than O'Driscoll, no greater unifier of nationalities.

Gatland will have to have the Irishman onside in Australia. The act of respect to make the journey to O'Driscoll's front door may have been to offer the captaincy or to offer consolation about captaincy.

The fact that Ladbrokes suspended betting on Sam Warburton as Gatland's Lions captain last Friday indicates a leak of evidence of some sort.

"In the last six months, Warburton has gone from being a rank outsider to the odds-on favourite. It looks like Gatland has made up his mind," said Ladbrokes spokesperson Jessica Bridge.

The most recent facts do not support Warburton's candidacy. He captained Wales just once during the Six Nations, in the opening day defeat to Ireland.

Ryan Jones took over the burden of the captaincy for three internationals, most notably in the 16-6 shock win over France at Stade de France which instantly transformed their campaign.

When the time was right for Warburton to resume the role in light of the decision to play Justin Tipuric and him in the back row against England, the simple fact is Warburton turned away from the responsibility.

He sidestepped the captaincy when his leadership was most needed for the Six Nations showdown to concentrate on his individual role. This alone should rule him out of contention to lead the British & Irish Lions in June and July.

 

Mediocrity

Warburton's confidence had been eroded from a fallow period in his career, literally descending into mediocrity from the end of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand where he was earmarked as a natural and equal rival to Richie McCaw and David Pocock as one of the top-three opensides on the planet.

From then, he slumped to a marked and definite decline in form. He was hanging on to his Wales number seven jersey when it was patently obvious to the trained and untrained eye that Justin Tipuric was the outstanding seven in the side.

This was finally recognised when Wales interim coach Rob Howley made room for both men in his back row as the Six Nations rolled on with Warburton switched to blindside.

It was not exactly a masterstroke to match the sweep of Picasso's paint brush. It was a decision delayed over fear of the unknown. Could they play together? The emphatic answer came at England's cost.

Maybe, just maybe, the speculation over the decision of Gatland to favour Warburton over O'Driscoll is made on a solid foundation.

There is another possibility. That he will be the lieutenant to O'Driscoll the general, according to my man's man Stan.


Privacy