Rugby winds up the loser in Lions side bereft of Captain Fantastic
If there isn’t room for Brian O’Driscoll this morning then the game has lost something
Bian O’Driscoll: still posesses that magical touch.
Warren Gatland’s sporting legacy hangs in the balance this morning. If the Lions lose against Australia, all of his achievements will be overshadowed by his decision to drop Brian O’Driscoll. It could haunt him for the rest of his life.
It isn’t particularly fair: the Lions might well lose without O’Driscoll. Through his enforced absence, however, the Irish man becomes more than just a player who performed with typical assuredness in the last two Tests. By not being there, he becomes an amalgamation of the whirling dervish who over 15 years has given moments of improvised genius and uncommon bravery.
O’Driscoll was part of an adventurously youthful selection which Gatland plumped for in that 2000 game against Scotland. Now, Gatland has decided, for reasons he failed to fully articulate on Wednesday last, to unequivocally declare whatever remains of O’Driscoll’s talent is surplus to his requirements for the biggest rugby game of the year.
O’Driscoll has long been recognised as one of the true greats of his sport, which is why Gatland’s decision is such a monumental gamble. Everything he says of his decision is right and true if you are talking about an exceptionally good but ordinary player. But O’Driscoll, even at 34, is out of the ordinary. When Michael Jordan had flu in game six of the NBA finals of 1998, it would have been logical had Phil Jackson benched him. He had a temperature, was fatigued and couldn’t play. But Jordan started because Jackson knew not starting him would be lunacy. And at the end, Jordan nailed what is probably the most famous shot in the history of basketball.
This is not to suggest had O’Driscoll been granted the magical Lions last chapter – captaining the team into a final Test – that he would have somehow recaptured the irrepressible running form of his debut tour. But he is one of those rare players of whom you can’t be sure what they will do. If O’Driscoll’s rugby life has been about anything, it has been to offer his team and fans the possibility that his alacrity of thought or hand or foot can turn a match in an instant. He could produce something not found in coaching manuals drafted by mere mortals.
There is no certainty O’Driscoll would have been able to summon what is best characterised as a form of magic but there was that possibility, that glimmering chance. Now Gatland has closed the book on that – finally and irrevocably as far as the Lions is concerned.