Ballsy call to drop O’Driscoll just doesn’t sit right
It’s hard not to be furious about it and upset for him in equal measure
The selection of Roberts to add a badly needed source of go-forward at inside centre, even if his form on this tour had been nothing like four years ago, is understandable, but picking Davies ahead of O’Driscoll, even strictly on form, is harder to justify.
This may be a ballsy call, but it genuinely looks wrong.
In last week’s second Test, again he may not have shown the pace and outside breaks of the days of Waltzing O’Driscoll, but because of errors inside and the Lions’ constrained, containing, kicking game, nor did anyone else.
O’Driscoll’s four carries was only one less than Davies. He made 13 tackles and missed none, whereas Davies made seven and missed three!
This is not to pick on Davies, a fine player and one of the most improved on tour, but nonetheless one who seems to have peaked with that stunning display against the Waratahs three Saturdays ago. In the last 10 minutes last Saturday it was Davies’ spillage, followed by O’Driscoll’s kick downfield, which ignited the Wallabies’ late siege, and Davies also missed his tackle on Israel Folau in the ensuing counter-attack before missing Adam Ashley-Cooper for the match-winning try.
And heaven knows how many more tackles O’Driscoll prevents by closing up fast on the outside. Suffice to say, it would be no surprise if Ashley-Cooper and those outside him have more space to play in next Saturday.
O’Driscoll’s excellent work at the breakdown has not been rewarded by the referees, Chris Pollock twice and Craig Joubert once penalising him for playing the ball even though on his feet. And when the Lions have gone wide on tour, O’Driscoll has shown some vintage touches.
Big game player
Then there’s the desire, experience and leadership O’Driscoll would have brought to the mix; a proven big game player in the biggest game of the year. The Lions, without precedent in 125 years, went into the first Test with two former tour captains backing up the current one, and now go into the third Test without any of the trio.
Wales have only once picked Alun Wyn Jones as Welsh captain under Gatland’s watch, preferring instead Ryan Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Warburton at various points. And the leaders in this team don’t exactly jump from the page.
Part of Gatland’s rationale in choosing Warburton initially was his relationship with referees, and even Romain Poite, the first European referee in the three Tests, would be aware of O’Driscoll.
Not for the first time on this tour, a Lions’ selection has generated the thought that the Irish lack a voice at the selection table. But as one English member of the press corps put it yesterday, O’Driscoll is bigger than any one country.
In any event, coupled with the omission of Irish captain Heaslip altogether, one imagines the Irish players will be shook by this, and certainly the rugby public back home will be. Put another way, there will be less emotional Irish investment in Saturday’s third Test, on and off the pitch.