Brian O’Driscoll admits ‘resentment’ over being dropped by Warren Gatland for Lions’ third Test
‘Yeah there’s resentment of course. Is he on the Christmas card list? Unlikely?’
Brian O’Driscoll and Warren Gatland meet on the pitch following the Lions’ third Test victory in Sydney. Photograph: Reuters.
Brian O’Driscoll’s brush with mortality when he was dropped by Lions coach Warren Gatland for the third and final Test match against Australia in June has left the Irish centre with a feeling of resentment towards the coach.
The four-time Lions tourist describes how Gatland and his assistant Rob Howley ushered him into the team room and to his astonishment told him that he would not be playing in the deciding third Test.
“I was making myself a coffee and I got a tap on the shoulder and Gats was there and Rob Howley was there behind him and I thought, two is trouble,” said O’Driscoll.
“I got asked, can we have a word in the team meeting room and we went in and it pretty much just came out that ‘we don’t have a place for you this weekend.’”
O’Driscoll’s disappointment at being dropped for the first time in a 15-year career was compounded by the fact that he was not named on the bench and had therefore no chance of playing in what would have been the final match of his Lions career and as it unfolded, the high point too.
Because of his stunned surprise when Gatland told him he wasn’t starting against Australia, the Irish centre did not think of asking if he was on the bench for the match and found out that he was not playing any part in the game only when the starting team and replacements were read out.
“I didn’t actually know about Manu [Tualagi] and I didn’t ask them what the bench was,” said O’Driscoll. “So until the team was read out I didn’t know that Manu was the spare outside back on the team, so that was kind of a kick in the guts.”
That Gatland, who has spoken some deliberately unkind words about Irish players over the years – that Ireland is the team Wales like least in the Six Nations – is the target for O’Driscoll’s ire also illustrates that while the coach may have achieved the biggest victory of his career, he did it by sundering any sense of tight community within the squad.
He showed players will surrender to the greater good of the team only so far and if weighty decisions are considered counter intuitive indignation soon follows.
Do you resent him a bit for the decision, Horgan asked.
“Do I resent him?,” repeated O’Driscoll. “Yeah there’s resentment of course. Is he on the Christmas card list? Unlikely.”
Adding ‘of course’ after admitting resentment makes it feel like a natural reaction. Saying ‘unlikely’ to the Christmas card sounds like ‘never in two life times.’ In the coded language of rugby relationships between players and coaches O’Driscoll’s words are a stinging rebuke and veer far from the usual track.
The dictionary definition of resentment is: “the feeling of displeasure or indignation at some act, remark, person . . . regarded as causing injury or insult.”
O’Driscoll was injured and it coloured his perception of the tour. Asked how his feeling changed between the first and third Test, he answers candidly.
“Dramatically,” he says. “I look back at the Tour now and I’m glad I can call it a successful Lions series but do I feel as much a part of it as those guys who took the pitch in the final Test? No, I don’t think I do. Do I look back on it with the same delight that they do? Probably not.
“Similarly in a much lesser context, this year I didn’t play in the Amlin Final. I played in the semi-final and was injured for the final and the lads won the trophy. We did a lap of honour and I was in my suit. I just didn’t feel part of that winning team and that’s my club, the club I’ve been with for 15 years.”
The former Irish captain also explained that he did not want to announce his retirement until after the Lions tour to allay fears that Gatland, Howley or Andy Farrell may have had about him “feeling up to it.” He didn’t want to impart that psychological profile.
“What should have probably been one of the greatest achievements in my career hasn’t unfortunately turned out to be that case,” he says.
“I’ll probably look on some other things that I have won with greater affection because of the manner in which the series finished. Again, I don’t apologise for that, that’s just my gut, it’s just how I feel.”