Brian O’Driscoll left out of final Lions test in Australia
Irish centre fails to make the bench with Jamie Roberts returning from injury
The Lions went into the first test with a side containing not only this year’s tour captain but the two preceding tour captains as well, in what was a first of its kind in Lions’ history. But they will go into Saturday’s decisive third test in Sydney with none of the trio after Warren Gatland and his four fellow coaches decided to drop Brian O’Driscoll on foot of losing Paul O’Connell and Sam Warburton to injury.
It is the first time O’Driscoll has been dropped in 15 years as a professional rugby player with Leinster, Ireland or the Lions.
Alun Wyn Jones will thus become the tour’s sixth captain in ten matches, with Gatland and company accommodating the return of fit-again Jamie Roberts by reverting Jonathan Davies to outside centre in the front-line Welsh midfield pairing to the exclusion of O’Driscoll.
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There is not even a place for O’Driscoll on the bench, with Manu Tuilagi preferred there. O’Driscoll was taken aside and informed of the decision before it was announced to the rest of the squad.
“Obviously, he was disappointed, as anyone is, but he appreciated the fact that he was spoken to before the announcement,” said Gatland.
“It’s the first time that any coach has had that decision with him in 15 years of rugby. It’s not easy for that to be the first time, but he’s still going to be very important for us for the next 72 hours in terms of his experience and leadership. He’s been involved in the first two Tests, but Jamie’s back fit and Jamie’s been given the nod in terms of that partnership of Jamie and Jon Davies in the midfield.
“It wasn’t about leadership – it was about picking what we felt was the best team. We did that, and then we went through and the next question was who we felt could do the best job in terms of captaining. Alun Wyn gets his opportunity on Saturday. There were a number of candidates but it wasn’t about picking a captain first, it was about picking what we felt was the best team first.”
Following the decision, a disappointed O’Driscoll posted a message on Twitter. “Obviously totally gutted at being left out for deciding Test but all efforts go into preparing the boys to see it through,” he wrote.
The Lions have made another five changes, with O’Driscoll’s successor as Irish captain, Jamie Heaslip, also making way for Toby Faletau, who packs down alongside Seán O’Brien, the replacement for the hamstrung Warburton.
Alex Corbisiero returns from injury to pack down at loose-head, with Mako Vunipola reverting to the bench, and Richard Hibbard is promoted ahead of Tom Youngs to further beef up the pack.
Mike Phillips is also restored at scrum-half, with Conor Murray retaining his place ahead of Ben Youngs, who started last week’s second test. Richie Gray and Justin Tipuric are, surprisingly, both promoted to the bench, to the exclusion of Tom Croft as well as Heaslip, meaning that another three players have been promoted to the bench and are in line for their Lions test debuts.