Sport Lions Tour

Monday 17 June 2019

Sean O'Brien releases clarifying statement after interview criticising Warren Gatland

Sean O'Brien felt the Lions were 'over-trained' going into the first and third Tests
Sean O'Brien felt the Lions were 'over-trained' going into the first and third Tests Newsdesk Newsdesk

Sean O'Brien has released a statement on Twitter to clarify comments he made on the drawn Lions series during interviews conducted yesterday.

On his personal Twitter account, O'Brien wrote: "To be clear, my views on the Lions tour were honest and genuine and solely with the intention of building on what was a great tour.

"Unfortunately some people have focused on what I feel we could have done better instead of what we did well.

"I have nothing but respect for Warren and the whole coaching team, in addition to the rest of the back room staff and squad of players. But do I believe we could have won the series? Yes. Do I believe the Lions squad in 2021 will be better for this? Yes.

"If we don't look to build on and improve on the tour to New Zealand how can future Lions squads get better?

"It is a privilege and an honour to be called a British & Irish Lion and I hope that this clarifies my position once and for all."

Ireland and Leicester flanker O'Brien yesterday took aim at the approach of the Lions set-up, led by Gatland, during their summer tour of New Zealand.

The Lions drew the three-Test series, but O'Brien felt it should have been a victorious one for the tourists.

O'Brien, 30, was particularly critical of attack coach Rob Howley, claiming he was set in his ways, with Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell having to take control of the side in the closing stages of the tour.

"The coaches have a lot to answer for in terms of our attack, rather than Johnny and Faz trying to drive it," O'Brien said.

"If I was being critical of any coach, it would be the fact that I think Rob struggled with the group in terms of trying to get stuff across, whereas Johnny and Owen drove everything in the second week, for instance, in our attack and had a better plan in place.

"I don't know if it was people not buying into what he (Howley) was about or whatever else. That's the hard thing about a Lions tour as well; getting everyone to listen to a coach that was probably set in his ways."

O'Brien also felt that the build-up to the first Test in Auckland - one which the Lions lost by 15 points - had been too intense and that the same mistake was almost repeated before the Tour's concluding match.

Gatland acknowledged the work overload ahead of the first Test and claimed to have rectified it during the Tour.

"The first week we definitely over-trained on the Thursday," O'Brien told the Off The Ball podcast. "Maybe the coaches were panicking a little bit about getting the information into us and the workload.

"I think we nearly did a similar thing on the last week. Maybe it's more of a coaching point of view in terms of taking lessons. Maybe less is more sometimes on a tour like that.

"We probably should have won the tour and we probably should have won it comfortably enough. I think there's a lot of learning to take from the tour in terms of the coaching set-up."

Lions chief executive John Feehan came out this evening to defend Warren Gatland and his management team.

"I said all along that I think we had the best coaching team available and I think they proved that in what we achieved in New Zealand," Feehan said on Thursday evening.

"To draw a series with the All Blacks, who had not lost a Test match at home for eight years, was a remarkable result, and Warren and the coaches deserve huge credit for that.

"People will always have their views on what could have been done better but the fact is that, against all the odds and with limited preparation time, this squad became only the second Lions team in history to either win or draw a series in New Zealand in 13 attempts. That achievement cannot be underestimated."

In an interview with the BBC, England number 8 waded into the debate by saying that the Lions would have won the series 3-0 had Eddie Jones been in charge.

"For me to sit here and say the Lions would have probably won is wrong. But personally my opinion is that if Eddie Jones went as coach they would have won 3-0. He is that good.

"I don’t know how he would have done it, but Eddie would have found a way. Eddie has changed our mindset at England from always accepting we can’t always be too outspoken and confident and he’s really helped us a team to kick on."


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