Dazzling win confirms Warren Gatland’s call on Brian O’Driscoll
Early experience with Ireland taught coach to back his own judgment
Lions coach Warren Gatland shakes hands with Brian O’Driscoll following Saturday’s third Test victory in Sydney. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters.
It was always going to be difficult achieving impartiality when it came to Ireland’s greatest player being dropped for the first time in his stellar 15-year career, thereby denying him the chance to seal his four-tour Lions expedition by lifting the Tom Richards Trophy.
We all felt his pain. But judging by some of the poisonous reaction and content of the vitriolic emails sent to Warren Gatland, in social media and in some punditry, we appear to have let ourselves down a little bit on this one.
Knowing that “if we’d have won the series fantastic, if we’d lost there would only be fingers pointed at myself”, said Gatland yesterday. He also revealed a promise he made to himself when coaching Ireland, and specifically, the foot-and-mouth, re-arranged game away to Scotland in September 2001.
“We lost an away game to Scotland which cost Ireland a grand slam. Tactically, I changed the way we played influenced by some selections. I promised myself I would never do that again, that I would never back down from what I felt would be the right decision. On 50-50 calls sometimes you can be swayed by other coaches but when you really believe deep down it’s the right decision you’ve got to back yourself 100 per cent. I’d rather make what I thought was the right decision rather than have any regrets afterwards. I’m proud that I’ve continued to do that following that experience with Ireland 10-12 years ago.”
Whether it would actually have led to a grand slam in a shoot-out with England will forever be a moot point. But given it was the game which effectively led to the IRFU removing Gatland, despite beating Wales, England and Samoa subsequently as well as running the All Blacks to a 40-29 win, may even fuel the claims that Gatland was last week being vindictive in dropping O’Driscoll.
Ridiculous and scurrilous
For starters, the then 21-year-old O’Driscoll would have had no part in the removal of Gatland. And in any case the notion that he would jeopardise the Lions’ chances of winning a test series by being vindictive towards O’Driscoll is ridiculous and scurrilous. Indeed, the thought has occurred this past week, not for the first time, that if there is any vindictiveness floating around the Irish air it is towards Gatland, not the other way around.
In any event, Irish rugby’s loss has been to the gain of Wasps, Waikato and Wales. Warren-ball has evolved into a potent harvester of silverware and to be fair Gatland’s experiences with Galwegians, Connacht and Ireland left them all in better condition than when he took over and also served to make him a better coach – as the aforementioned experience highlights.
As he’s often said, forcing him to move on and linking up with Wasps, then at the bottom of the Premiership, was the best thing that has happened to him.