Monday 19 March 2018

Dwyer not surprised O'Driscoll dropped

Former Australia coach tells Peter Bills writing was on the wall from Six Nations

Brian O'Driscoll, British & Irish Lions, during squad training ahead of their 3rd test match against Australia on Saturday
Brian O'Driscoll, British & Irish Lions, during squad training ahead of their 3rd test match against Australia on Saturday
Sean O'Brien during squad training

Peter Bills

Brian O'Driscoll was lucky to make the Lions team for the first two Tests, according to Bob Dwyer, and now that others are fit, it is no surprise to the former Australia coach that the Dubliner has been omitted for tomorrow's third Test.

Dwyer, a hard-headed coach throughout his career, makes no attempt to hide his respect for O'Driscoll.

"He's been a marvellous player, one of the best we've seen," says the man who led Australia to the 1991 World Cup.

"But I don't think he has been at his best all year. What stood out for me during Ireland's Six Nations games was that he fell off a few tackles, which is absolutely unlike him. Even so, he has got truck-loads of courage, but something else wasn't there.

"That doesn't mean he wouldn't have been a worthwhile selection (for this tour) but the question is whether he would have been the best selection.

"When the squad was chosen, I thought he would be lucky to make the Test team. So now people are fit he hasn't made it which is not hard to understand."

Dwyer ponders the argument that O'Driscoll should have been chosen for Sydney, and as captain, because other players have so much respect for him.

"I have never been one for picking a guy just as a captain," he says. "But it's clear the other players do want to play for him and I think the Lions needed that this weekend. In recent years, O'Driscoll has added a lot to his game in terms of using other players and bringing them into the game."

But overall, Dwyer is philosophical about O'Driscoll's omission from the squad for the final Test of his last Lions tour.

"I lost the first and last Tests of my career as a coach and maybe these things tell you that you can't be greedy," he recalls. "You have to be satisfied with everything that went on in between and I'm sure Brian will reflect on that in time."

Besides, says Dwyer, maybe it is another rugby man from back in Ireland whom the Lions are going to miss most for tomorrow's Test. In his opinion, Joe Schmidt could have added a lot to the Lions' back play for this tour.

"I always thought Michael Cheika and Alan Gaffney did extremely well at Leinster in terms of the quality of their attacking play. It improved enormously under them, especially so in the case of Jonny Sexton," asserts Dwyer.


"But then when Joe Schmidt took over at Leinster I felt he added something extra. He really showed his worth during his time there and the fact that the Lions couldn't find a spot on their coaching team for him ... may ultimately cost them.

"Why wasn't Schmidt included? Surely it wasn't that one Kiwi didn't want another on board? I can't believe that.

"But I have absolutely no doubt that Schmidt could have added something to the Lions' attacking game."

And anyway, the Lions might win tomorrow's decisive Test. Mightn't they? Not if Australia hit their straps for the first time in the series, warns Dwyer.

"I don't think the Lions will win. They had their chance in Melbourne and let it slip. I can't believe Australia cannot play better than they did last week. James O'Connor has to have more than two pieces of intelligent play in the whole game. He was awful last week," he reflects.

"But if the Wallabies get anywhere near playing some attacking rugby this weekend they should win well. George Smith will really lift the team with his selection."

Australians everywhere, not least the head of their government finances, have been grateful for the presence of thousands of Lions fans in their country.

Dwyer says the atmosphere has been almost carnival-like at times, a lot of fun. But he doubts whether these Lions will be remembered as anything very special.

"It's been a long time since there has been a really great Lions team. Because you are not a really great side does not mean you are a dud side," he argues.

"These Lions are a decent side. But they don't measure up to the Lions sides of 1959, 1971 or 1974. The 1959 Lions scored four tries to nil in one Test and only lost because Don Clarke kicked six penalty goals.

"Your ability to get into a World XV is always the ultimate yardstick of how good you really are. And out of these Lions, I would only pick two players for such a team – Leigh Halfpenny at full-back and George North on the wing."

It is ironic Dwyer's only two picks are Welshmen. For he scorns the fact that Wales will contribute 10 players to tomorrow's Lions line-up.

"If Wales had been dominant in the Six Nations in terms of style and play, and their ability to play the game in different ways, then you could say it was reasonable to start this Test with 10 Welshmen. But they weren't," he says.

"So it's hard to believe a team with 10 Welsh players is going to be the best Lions side ever. Wales haven't beaten Australia since Noah was a boy. And there is a psychological aspect to this, too.

"I think this team are relying on bluffing the referee at the scrums. But for me, neither Alex Corbisiero nor Adam Jones are genius scrummagers."

But perhaps Dwyer reserves his strongest criticism of the Lions for one other aspect.

"For me, these Lions still don't know what their best team is. You could say they have been unlucky because injuries have hugely influenced that and they also met weakened opposition sides. But it is also because they didn't make hard decisions on what was likely to be their best team before they left home," he explains.

"You always need to do that, in my view. Then you list the maybes and try to sort them out in the lead-up games. But you should always try to assess your own players' performances and not base your views on what the opposition are doing.

"What is important is whether your players can apply a sound, solid technique under the pressure of a game. Tactics are much less important than the application of technique.

"But the Lions have changed their players so much it's clear they don't know their best side.

"For instance, they have played three scrum-halves in two Tests. That tells us a lot about their uncertainties." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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