Tuesday 20 March 2018

George Hook: Bravest man Irish rugby has seen should retire with immediate effect

Brian O'Driscoll during the second test. Photo: Sportsfile
Brian O'Driscoll during the second test. Photo: Sportsfile

Warren Gatland's decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll for the final Test in Sydney on Saturday reminded me of Michael McDowell's comment, albeit in a different context – "the last sting of a dying wasp."

The Lions coach has delivered a team bereft of attacking ideas and reliant almost entirely on the goal-kicking skills of Leigh Halfpenny. He has reduced Jonny Sexton to a caricature of an attacking No 10. Last Saturday, George North, one of his best attackers, carried for just four yards. The only way the wing can get the ball in this series is for the Wallabies to kick to him.

It was obvious to anybody that looked deeply at the original selection that Gatland intended using Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts as his centre partnership. That plan misfired when Roberts was injured and the coach's catastrophic decision to travel with one inside centre meant somebody had to play out of position.

O'Driscoll should never have gone on this tour. He clearly hoped for a valedictory departure in a winning Test series but, if he had considered the coaching team, he should have been concerned about the kind of rugby that the Lions would play and a Welsh bias in selection.

The greatest rugby player of his generation is clearly past his best but then so were Jack Kyle, Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson and Tom Kiernan in their final seasons. The difference with O'Driscoll is the physical punishment that he will suffer in adding an extra year of playing with little or no advantage either to his CV or his bank balance.


O'Driscoll is a loyalist, often to his own detriment. He soldiered on to the very last under Gatland, Eddie O'Sullivan and Declan Kidney, when others were critical and sought change.

Each of those coaches let him down in some way. Gatland failed to put a shape on Ireland's attacking game; O'Sullivan rode on his coat-tails; and Kidney delivered the ultimate insult by stripping him of the captaincy. Never once did O'Driscoll demur which speaks volumes for him as a man but he could have been a huge influence for change in Irish rugby.

If O'Driscoll was surprised, then the Irish sporting public would have woken up yesterday morning in a state of shock. Nothing had prepared them for this eventuality. In most of the match reports on the first two Tests, O'Driscoll was given high marks in all the player assessments. Nobody was prepared to suggest that the emperor had no clothes on.

The Irish centre, playing in a system that did him no favours was, by any standards, below par. Those who questioned the penalties against him at the breakdown simply did not understand the law as it is written. The fact that O'Driscoll can get away with it in the northern hemisphere does not mean that he is right.

There is method in Gatland's madness. His back is to the wall and he has reverted to what he knows best. His selection of 10 Welsh players probably is an indication that he has lost support within the squad and men beholden to him next season will naturally give of their best in the Test match.

His selection in this series has been in marked contrast to Robbie Deans. Australia's Kiwi coach has only replaced injured players and will effectively play this series with an unchanged squad.

Meanwhile, Gatland seems to have no idea who is his best hooker or No 8. To have selected Tom Youngs and Jamie Heaslip for the first two Tests and then dropped them for the final game indicates he believes his initial selections were wrong. Given the truncated nature of this tour, non-Test players get little opportunity to shine.

Brian O'Driscoll is collateral damage from a failed tour strategy. As the Lions become ever more focused on "the brand" and commercial opportunity, the quality of play and, above all, the standard of coaching goes down. Graham Henry, Clive Woodward and Warren Gatland did nothing for the real traditions of this touring side. All three made selections based on past rather than present performance.

The physically bravest man ever to play rugby for province and country is now faced with a moral dilemma. He should retire with immediate effect and devote himself to his wife and family.

Brian O'Driscoll is a giant of the game and nobody would accuse him of a fit of pique. His body and mind have taken enough punishment. He should go with our gratitude.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport