Friday 23 February 2018

O'Driscoll suffers shock Test axe

Brian O'Driscoll will not feature in the final Test against Australia
Brian O'Driscoll will not feature in the final Test against Australia

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has sprung one of the great surprises in the tourists' history by dropping Brian O'Driscoll for Saturday's series decider against Australia.

O'Driscoll was the favourite to lead the Lions in the final Test at Sydney's ANZ Stadium after Sam Warburton was ruled out with a hamstring injury, but instead he has been omitted from the 23 with Alun-Wyn Jones named captain.

"Brian is a great player and has had a wonderful career, but for the final Test we felt that Jamie Roberts' presence offered us something more," Gatland said.

"Brian was disappointed but appreciated that he was spoken to before the announcement. It's the first time any coach has ever made that decision with him in all his years of rugby. It's not going to be easy for him, but he'll still be important for us in the next 72 hours in terms of his experience and leadership."

The O'Driscoll-Jonathan Davies midfield partnership used for the first two Tests has been broken up, with Jamie Roberts picked at inside centre following his return from a hamstring injury.

Davies moves to outside centre while Sean O'Brien, Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Toby Faletau and Mike Phillips are promoted to a starting XV showing six changes to the side beaten 16-15 in Melbourne.

It is a radically altered team but the dominant talking point will be the decision to axe 2005 Lions captain O'Driscoll for the first time in his 14-year professional career. A record-equalling 10 Welshman have been named in the starting XV, among them Jones who was the natural choice as captain when O'Driscoll was removed from the picture.

The Lions are missing all three of their Test captains - Warburton, O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell - but Gatland said: "It wasn't about leadership, it was about picking the best team. We went through it and did that, then the next question was who could do the best job in terms of captaining. Alun will lead from the front and has been outstanding in the lead-up games. He's been one of the first names on the sheet for the first two Tests."

British and Irish Lions team to face Australia in the third Test at the ANZ Stadium, Sydney, on Saturday, July 6: L Halfpenny (Wales); T Bowe (Ireland), J Davies (Wales), J Roberts (Wales), G North (Wales); J Sexton (Ireland), M Phillips (Wales); A Corbisiero (England), R Hibbard (Wales), A Jones (Wales), A-W Jones (Wales, capt), G Parling (England), D Lydiate (Wales), S O'Brien (Ireland), Toby Faletau (Wales).

Replacements: T Youngs (England), M Vunipola (England), D Cole (England), R Gray (Scotland), J Tipuric (Wales), C Murray (Ireland), O Farrell (England), Manu Tuilagi (England).

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