Friday 23 March 2018

Davies comes through eye of the storm with class and composure

Conor George

Conor George

IT could be worse for Jonathan Davies – he could be Warren Gatland!

The Wales centre yesterday was put in the unenviable position of having to justify his position in the Lions team for tomorrow's Test. Not because he's not a good player – he absolutely is – but by dint of who he is keeping out of the team.

Davies has only moved up one number, from 12 to 13, but when the previous occupant of the No 13 shirt is Brian O'Driscoll and the fact that that has been his shirt for the past 12 years means there's a little bit more to it than taking a few steps left or right.

It's not Davies' fault that Gatland selected him ahead of O'Driscoll, and the Welshman realised very early on that the focus would not be upon him personally but rather on the man he displaced.

"When I saw I was down for media today, I did expect a few questions. I think that shows how great a player Brian is," Davies finally relented after skilfully bobbing and weaving around previous questions about O'Driscoll.

"Like everyone who is not in the squad, Brian is disappointed he's not involved. He was a total professional and congratulated me after the team was announced and we went off to training."

The 25-year-old Scarlets player resumes his international partnership with Jamie Roberts this weekend – "Jamie has a big physical presence and will make the gainline almost every time" – and the Lions' success is likely to hinge on their combined performance.

"I wouldn't say it's pressure being selected (ahead of O'Driscoll). I'm just grateful for the opportunity to play in such a big game," he added.

Davies was cool throughout the questioning and tried manfully to bat away the barrage of questions about O'Driscoll.

It must have been draining for the player and was, perhaps, ill-advised to pitch him to a horde ravenous for a fresh soundbite about what has become known as 'BODgate' in Ireland and, indeed, in Australia. The majority of people believe the jettisoning of O'Driscoll is a grave error by a coach whose tactics are coming under increasingly forensic scrutiny.

O'Driscoll's natural game was sacrificed for Gatland's and attack coach Rob Howley's version of "the greater good" and he was made the scapegoat for the limited game plan the Lions have been operating.

None of that is Davies' doing, of course. But he is now under pressure. Any mistake he makes tomorrow will give fodder to those who believe he is the wrong man in someone else's place.

"I'm pretty pleased with the way I've been playing, but I need to make sure I deliver on Saturday," was his acknowledgement of the situation Gatland has dumped him in.

His performance against the Waratahs on June 15 was referenced by Gatland as Davies' best of the tour.

O'Driscoll was very generous in his praise of Davies immediately after that match. Little did he know that, three weeks later, Davies' performance in the game would bring about the premature end of the Dubliner's Lions playing career, 12 years after first donning the famous red shirt.

"In that game against the Waratahs things went my way," said Davies. "Now I have to make sure I put myself in those positions by working hard and making sure that I deliver under pressure.

"There's a huge amount of pressure on me to deliver, so I'm looking forward to the task."

Davies is a capable and personable young man who has been saddled with unenviable responsibility by his coach.

He was, in a sense, faced with his first challenge yesterday when his press conference quickly assumed the nature of a cross-examination. He handled himself brilliantly and with a touch of class as he took time to lavish praise on O'Driscoll at the finish.

"What he has achieved in the game, no other player might do," he said. "I've grown up watching him and to have been able to play with him was very special. I have admiration for the man and a lot of respect."

Irish Independent

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