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
Romantic days of amateur rugby
It sometimes seems as if all Lions tours after 1974 have been an attempt to somehow recapture the folklore and character of that side captained by Willie John McBride.
The Irishman’s singular style of captaincy – he was Bligh and Fletcher rolled into one – and the enduring presence of one AJF O’Reilly on the all-time try scorers list has helped to deepen the democratic aspect of the British and Irish Lions.
It could be argued that the series lost its true relevance once the rugby nations devised the world cup in 1987 and the teams from both hemispheres began to play each other more regularly.
In the contemporary era, the Lions tour is a strange beast. It is in part a throwback to the wilder and romantic days of amateur rugby. It is a huge money-spinner and is a deeply-felt personal honour which transcends professionalism and internationalism for the players. Moreover, it is a wonderful platform for a coach to embellish his credentials.
Coaching a winning team is Gatland’s first priority and no one has ever accused the New Zealander of being sentimental.
But there is one final point: the general consensus is that in his selection Gatland is hoping to use his centres to bludgeon a path through the Australian defence.
Maybe it will work. But so what if it does?
If there isn’t room in what is, in the truest sense, a challenge match, for the possibility that one of the most instinctive and imaginative attacking players in the history of the game might just do something special and wonderful; if there isn’t room in a deciding Lions Test in which the 10-year-old kids lucky enough to be there can say that they saw O’Driscoll play; if there isn’t room for a player who almost had his neck broken playing for the Lions and came back as fearless as ever; if there isn’t room for the one player who has proven his remorseless appetite for winning again and again; if there isn’t room for the electric surge his appearance from the bench with 15 minutes to go in a close match would generate around the stadium and through the teams on both sides . . . if there isn’t room on the rugby field for Brian O’Driscoll this morning, then the game itself has lost something.