Sunday 17 November 2019

Gatland: I made the right call dropping BOD

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland and Brian O'Driscoll
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland and Brian O'Driscoll

Warren Gatland believes he has made "the right rugby decision" in dropping Ireland midfield star Brian O'Driscoll - and effectively ending his British and Irish Lions career.

O'Driscoll, 34, was a shock omission when Gatland announced the team for Saturday's Test series decider against Australia in Sydney.


New Zealander Gatland, who as Ireland coach first capped O'Driscoll in 1999, has preferred Welshmen Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts to forge the centre pairing.


While O'Driscoll's Ireland career is set to continue next term, his four-tour Lions odyssey has reached an abrupt end. When the Lions tour New Zealand in 2017, he will be 38.


Gatland, though, has never been one for sentiment, with Saturday's selection a line-up he feels can deliver a first Test series triumph since 1997 in South Africa.


Reflecting on the O'Driscoll decision, he said: "It's only hard because you are making the decision by using your head and not your heart.


"Then you realise that what comes of making a decision like that is all the peripheral stuff - not the rugby decision - because it becomes a major story for 48 hours and it becomes a debate.


"That is the process I've gone through myself. If I go back to the UK after this and say 'did I make the decision because I believe it's the right decision? or 'did I make the decision because it was the right political decision or sentiment?'


"I have to put hand on my heart and say it's the right rugby decision.


"I would hate to think we had made calls on trying to avoid criticism or public favour or perception.


"He (O'Driscoll) is not finished yet. He has been a big part of the story (2013 tour). He played in the first two Tests and he has been a part of a win and a loss.


"He is obviously very, very disappointed, as any player would be, but it's like everything, it's a learning process.


"It's kind of hard when you've been the number one in your position for so long, for 15 years, and first choice on every team you've been a part of, and on every Lions team you've been the first choice as well.


"There have been a lot of people under him who have experienced the disappointment of Brian O'Driscoll always being selected over them. It's just part of sport, isn't it?


"Sometimes it happens and we've made a really tough decision, a tough call and that's part of it."


Gatland spoke with O'Driscoll prior to the team being announced, and he added: "He has been around for a long time. He understands how things work.


"He is a professional and he appreciated the fact we had the conversation with him. It's not everyone we always speak to, but he was one that definitely needed the respect of being spoken to."


O'Driscoll's omission - and with it the end of an era in Lions terms - inevitably overshadowed a team showing six changes and one positional switch from last weekend's 16-15 defeat in Melbourne.


Davies moves from inside to outside centre as O'Driscoll's direct replacement, with Roberts wearing the number 12 shirt, while scrum-half Mike Phillips returns instead of England's Ben Youngs, who does not even make the bench.


Up front, a fit-again Alex Corbisiero is back instead of Mako Vunipola, hooker Richard Hibbard gets the nod above Tom Youngs, Sean O'Brien replaces skipper Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau is preferred to number eight Jamie Heaslip in a side skippered by lock Alun-Wyn Jones.


"We picked what we think is the best team," Gatland added. "The process was we picked the team and then decided who we feel will do the best job as captain afterwards.


"Alun-Wyn Jones has been captain of his club side a lot, he's captained Wales.


"It was a one-point game last week, and they (Australia) were absolutely desperate. The question for Australia is can they get themselves emotionally up for this game? I'm not sure that they can do that.


"I've been involved in teams before and seen how emotion can play in terms of results.


"I can go back to 2005 with Wasps and Leicester. We (Wasps) played the last game of the (league) round. It was Neil Back's and Martin Johnson's last game at Welford Road.


"I went there and completely underestimated the emotion of those two players playing their last game at home, and Wasps were well beaten by Leicester at Welford Road.


"Two weeks later in the Premiership final, they couldn't bring the same emotion and we put 40 points on them, so it's hard to get yourself completely on the edge every week, and I think that had to be it last week when you saw the reaction of (Wallabies skipper) James Horwill after the game and what it meant.


"We are disappointed, and we think emotionally we can improve for it, but there is a question whether they (Australia) can do the same thing."

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