Saturday 24 March 2018

James Lawton: When O'Driscoll looked for the flame, he found it rather low

Something needs to be injected into the tide of Irish tears – and general outrage – flowing around the exclusion of Brian O'Driscoll from the third Test.

It is something called reality, an understanding that there is a point when a coach has to make one of the big decisions of his career without the merest nod to sentiment or respect or some desperate yearning to turn the clock back at least for a day.

This was O'Driscoll's last run at the glory, a fourth Lions tour. He was given two Tests to prove that not only could he resist for a few more weeks the dying of the most inspiring of his light, he could hit the Wallabies with some of the best of his work, one last time illuminate the depth of his meaning as one of the greatest players the game has seen.

Doubtless, the former Ireland captain has paid the freight on his trip to Australia. A sage and utterly committed figure, his experience and savvy were severely tested during the shambolic refereeing in the first Test – but he kept his head and was a mature influence. However, more was required going into the second Test when the Australians were plainly committed to an all-out assault to regain lost ground.

Defensively, O'Driscoll has been impeccable, but for coach Warren Gatland there was an unavoidable fact as he weighed his options for the decisive battle in Sydney. O'Driscoll's genius in attack has plainly been in irreversible decline.

The Lions performance was a grave disappointment in its passive nature. Such an approach will not do in the final challenge.

Not so long ago the explosive presence of O'Driscoll would have been a guarantee against another display of reduced Lions aggression. Unfortunately, in the second Test O'Driscoll could not inflict himself. No doubt this was partly because of the wider deficiencies of the team, but when he did get fleeting opportunities his reactions had rarely been so disappointing. When we looked for the flame we found it had run rather low.

O'Driscoll's admirers can hardly claim that his weight and distinction have been somehow marginalised by the overwhelming Welsh presence which provides 10 of Saturday's team.

When Gatland considered his starting team and his bench deployment he asked one huge question: who was best guaranteed to throw a Wallabies team already sniffing blood onto the back foot?


Was it the restored impact of Jamie Roberts alongside his familiar partner Jonathan Davies or the restoration of the O'Driscoll-Davies combo which disappeared so alarmingly at the crunch in Melbourne?

Gatland made the hard decision in favour of Roberts and augmented it with the back-up power of Manu Tuilagi.

That may have been sacrilege in O'Driscoll's homeland but it made a deal of sense elsewhere. He was invited to make one last run for the sunlight and, heaven knows, he did not back away from the challenge. However, nor did he invade it with the best of his past. So what did his embattled coach have to do? It was, like it or not, live in today.

(© Independent News Service)

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