Thursday 23 November 2017

Dropping O'Driscoll is a brave call… and the wrong one

WARREN Gatland has made the most contentious selection decision of his career. It could come back to haunt him, or could be a masterstroke.

Gatland, at least, has had the nerve to make the decision. Many coaches would have fudged it, but the controversy that has erupted will continue to swirl around the Lions over the next 72 hours.

Very simply, there is no denying the stature of O'Driscoll. He has been the heartbeat of every single side in which he has played for the last 14 years. He has the complete respect of his peers and, crucially, he instills that sense of respectful awe in the opposition.

Any opposing team will be happier facing the Lions without him in it. Yes, it's true, his physical prowess has waned. But what he lacks in speed over the ground he more than makes up for in speed of thought.

During this Lions tour, there have been times where his usual dominance has been challenged, the accuracy not quite there, but there have still been several moments when his awareness on the field and quick hands have brought dividends.

He would be an asset to any side. Yet the Lions, deprived already of two captains in Sam Warburton and Paul O'Connell, have decided to dispense with O'Driscoll's leadership qualities.

Warren Gatland has dropped Brian O'Driscoll from the Lions' squad for Saturday’s final and deciding third Test against Australia
Warren Gatland has dropped Brian O'Driscoll from the Lions' squad for Saturday’s final and deciding third Test against Australia

Gatland has claimed that captaincy is over-rated. However, O'Driscoll brings presence to that midfield and has a rugby intellect that is beyond most players.

Jonathan Davies is no mean operator, that has to be acknowledged, even though he had a middling Six Nations. And his form on this Australia tour, certainly in the early stages, has been impressive.

Recently, though, he has played out of position at inside centre, in the absence of Jamie Roberts, and has looked out of kilter. There were defensive errors in his game in Melbourne last week.

However, he now has the opportunity to ressurect his Wales partnership with Roberts and the understanding between the two will be crucial.

But it is still so so difficult to imagine the Lions taking the field in Sydney on Saturday without O'Driscoll in the No 13 shirt.

Gatland has made a big call. And it is the wrong call.

- Mick Cleary, Telegraph.co.uk

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