Wednesday 22 November 2017

Frankie Sheahan: Gatland made insane call but scrum can swing it for tourists

Frankie Sheahan

Nobody expected Warren Gatland to wield such a vicious sword to his Lions team ahead of the third Test, but omitting Brian O'Driscoll is one cut too far.

Gatland has oozed confidence in the last couple of years and in particular this season, after winning his third championship in six years with Wales. But despite all his success, it is a huge call dropping O'Driscoll.

I don't agree with it, but I do admire him and respect him for going with his instinct and having the audacity and the bravery to drop a player of that magnitude.

People are criticising him, but we should remember that he was a kick away from wrapping this series up last week.

He has been thrown a bit by losing the second Test. It wasn't part of the plan. I don't think he saw it coming; I think he assumed they were going to win again.

As a result he has reverted back to what he knows. He knows this Welsh team inside-out and he believes they will deliver for him. That's why he has gone with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

My main concern regarding O'Driscoll is that in the absence of Paul O'Connell and Sam Warburton to captain this team, he was the natural successor. His leadership was going to be crucial in the third Test with so much on the line.

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Alun-Wyn Jones, will do fine, but this is a massive step up for him. Imagine if he got injured early on, it could be an absolute disaster. Not to have O'Driscoll even on the bench is insane. I don't agree with it. He should be starting as captain.

I previously said I would select Manu Tuilagi and O'Driscoll, and hold Roberts on the bench. Roberts hasn't played in four weeks and that is a massive factor.

What is important is how O'Driscoll reacts. I'm sure he'll recover and have a great final year for Leinster and Ireland, but he shouldn't have been dropped like that. It makes no sense tactically or based on form.

While all of Ireland is hopping mad with the team news, from a marketing point of view, this could not have worked out better for the organisers, at 1-1 going into the decider, and all the talk of the week has been about the Lions.

The bookies are making the Lions favourites by one point, and I expect it will come right down to the wire again. People feel that the momentum will be with Australia. I met former Munster and current assistant Australia coach Tony McGahan during the week and he felt that because Australia only had two weeks preparation for the first game, they were not battle hardened. This led to a natural improvement the last day and there will be more improvement from the Aussies in the final Test.

The Lions are going to have to improve, but they can do it. They don't have to run straight away and start playing a wide game and trying to create all sorts of tries.

They can still win this by being direct and kicking the penalties. I can't wait to see the Richard Hibbard-Adam Jones axis working together. This could be the weapon to win the series for the Lions. That scrum will earn them penalties and points.

When they played together the last day – albeit for about two minutes – they were powerful and put huge pressure on the Australian scrum. That is going to be key tomorrow.

Hibbard is also in there for his ball carrying ability, and I am delighted to see Sean O'Brien start for the same reason. Go-forward ball has been badly lacking so far in the two Tests and they will both improve that statistic.

It is very hard on Jamie Heaslip being dropped completely. I would certainly have started with him on the blindside, but Toby Faletau won't weaken that zone either.

But consequently, it is a real concern that the Lions have 10 Welsh starters. Australia have beaten Wales in their last eight meetings. They rightly believe they have the measure of this team and they won't be intimidated.

Gatland's style with Wales is to run over the top of guys; be more aggressive; be more powerful than their opponents. But the Aussies know how to deal with that Welsh tactic and that worries me.

Still, if Gatland wins, it won't condone his decision to drop O'Driscoll.

It could be that they would have won with either centre combination, simply because he has the correct front-row combination in place. I can't wait!

Irish Independent

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