Thursday 18 January 2018

Victor Costello: 'The man who could win the game will be sitting in the stand'

Brian O’Driscoll looks to have played his last Test for the Lions, a career which started with victory over Australia back in 2001
Brian O’Driscoll looks to have played his last Test for the Lions, a career which started with victory over Australia back in 2001
Brian O’Driscoll looks to have played his last Test for the Lions, a career which started with victory over Australia back in 2001

The Lions will say that the show must go on, but the decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll has left a serious dent in the enjoyment of Saturday's game for many, many people in Britain and Ireland. There is no doubt it is the wrong call.

I'm in England now and I was reading one of the newspapers here and I had a feeling in my gut from what he was saying that this might be coming.

Everyone was speculating that he might be captain and that, injury and physical ability willing, he would star as he always does. But he was quoted as saying that he was worried about selection first and then captaincy. That was the first time I had ever heard him contemplate the possibility of not playing.

I thought, 'no, that couldn't happen', but he obviously had an inkling from training that this was coming down the tracks.

The way these things happen is that you are told, the press get told and your friends get told and it is like a three-tier defence mechanism that has to kick in for Brian.

My initial reaction when I woke up and heard the news was shock because it is the wrong decision, one that for a lot of people will effectively pull the rug from under what has been a great Lions series.

The tradition of the Lions has been affected, so for many reasons the anticipation for the weekend's game has been reduced.

A Lions legend, as recognised by everybody in the four nations who are all equal in this, the poster boy of the last 15 years during a time that has been the pinnacle of the sport, will be in the crowd instead of on the pitch. It is a devastating blow.

As Irish people, we know what he has done for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions, and the appalling thing about it is that big-game players react under pressure.

Unfortunately, this time around, the coach has not reacted well under that pressure himself. It is obvious that when you are missing Sam Warburton and Paul O'Connell and you have O'Driscoll there, you use him.

Warren Gatland is under pressure and he has made the wrong decisions. The one guy who would be able to pull this series out of the bag is Brian O'Driscoll and he will be in the stand.

Of course Brian will be hurting, he is an ambitious guy. It is ironic that a guy who gave him his chance in 1999 in Australia is dropping him 14 years later in the same country.

When you are the coach of any team and you're in a bubble, you don't have an objective view, you don't see what we can see at home.

We all want the Lions to win with our hearts, but we don't get bonuses if they do, we don't get paid, we don't have threats over our careers.

It is self-preservation and you can see that with the 10 Welsh players selected. Gatland trusts the partnership of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

Davies is the player whose defensive lapse allowed Australia to score the winning try last Saturday, and Brian has not done anything wrong, he has performed extremely well.

He has been a pioneer in professional rugby, through his performances, his successes and his contribution to the culture of the game.

He has won Heineken Cups, Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam, while he has represented the Lions brilliantly in the past.

Now he has to apply that attitude to disappointment. He is a hungry and ambitious guy and that ambition has fed into the younger players like Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and others.

The likes of George North and Roberts are playing with their hero when he lines out alongside them.

It was the same with us – he is an inspirational figure.

Brian has got to do what all of us at have had to do at some stage in our careers and watch the game from the stand.

How will he handle it?

I'm sure he will do it with professionalism and enthusiasm for the team, but it is certainly unknown territory for him and what makes it worse was that it was unwarranted by Gatland.

You can see the devastation among fans of all hues over here. Up to Wednesday night we were a community, at least until the start of the Six Nations next year. What this has done is blow the heart out of that community.

Gatland believes he can win with this team, but personally I cannot see it. He has lost O'Connell, Warburton and now O'Driscoll and these are games of the highest intensity.

I never played for the Lions but I can see that any mistake can be punished given the frenetic nature of the games and the pressure cooker they are played in.

Brian thrives in that environment. If I was an Australian player I would be delighted with that Lions team for Saturday.

Even at 34, Brian is capable of something special. His aura is enough.

The Aussies know how committed, how strong he is and they know his work rate and his ability to read a game.

Sport is cruel, particularly the professional game. It is very hard to plan a retirement with coaches, selection, form and injury at play.

I know Brian as a friend – he is extremely ambitious and dedicated. For the rest of his life he will have so many opportunities and he will be in control of taking them and that is not far away.

For now it is out of his control and like everybody he is left scratching his head at the moment.

Gatland has panicked since the defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra. You don't see much of a change in the New Zealander's public persona, but beneath the exterior I believe that he has been frantically searching for answers.

If you look at the selection over three games, both teams have had injuries but the Wallabies have been far more consistent.

It is a great opportunity for Sean O'Brien, but I can't see a victory for the tourists.

You need the O'Connells and O'Driscolls for a bit of edge. When the game is in the balance, they are the guys who keep the form and power coming through.

We hope the Lions win, but vindication for Gatland is not an issue. His is not a steady ship.

We're scratching our heads and you can be sure the players are too as they prepare for the game and Brian is holding the tackle bags.

I can't see the Lions winning. It will be tight, they are good players, but in this environment little things make a difference and the Lions know that this is no small decision.

Irish Independent

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