Kyle says O’Driscoll decision should be respected
‘It’s not about being sentimental about a player’s last game’
Brian O’Driscoll celebrates Ireland’s Grand Slam win in 2009 with Jack Kyle. Dr Kyle said it is ‘always nice to think of guys ending on a high note’. Photograph: Inpho
Dr Kyle - one of the Grand Slam heroes of 1948 - was embraced by Brian O’Driscoll on the Cardiff turf when the team of 2009 achieved the same feat 61 years on, and was voted Ireland’s greatest ever player in a 2002 poll.
“A coach like Gatland - he’s up against a problem I think - trying to decide who are the guys performing at the time,” Dr Kyle told The Irish Times.
“We all know Brian O’Driscoll’s talent - and what a wonderful talent he has.
“Gatland is maybe trying to decide ‘well, now is Brian performing the way he used to perform?’ and trying to make a decision about that. We all know that O’Driscoll is the sort of guy who can turn a match and that’s why many people will think he is well worth including in any squad.
“But I wouldn’t like to be in a coach’s shoes trying to pick a squad out of all those players. I would have to go along and say Gatland is doing what he thinks is the right thing to do and leave it at that.”
Dr Kyle - whose performances on the Lions tour of 1950 are still talked about - said there was no room for sentiment when it comes to picking your squad.
“There is no room for sentiment and you’re only as good as your last match or two. For a coach to leave O’Driscoll out - it must have been quite difficult - but at the time he has to say that’s how he feels and that’s what he has to go with.
“It’s not about being sentimental about a player’s last game - he has to think ‘this is the best side I can pick and this is the right thing to do’.
“I think a lot of us were hoping this was going to be O’Driscoll’s last tour and that he would have performed exceptionally well and been able to end his career on a very high note, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like that’s going to be possible.
“I think for a guy who has been the outstanding Irish three quarter over the past decade or more, it’s always nice to think of guys ending on a high note and coming out of it and being able to say ‘I’ve been a wonderful servant to Irish rugby and I’m getting another opportunity at the end of my career to show what I can do’ - and we all hoped that that would happen and he would do well but unfortunately he’s not getting that.”
Asked if he thought O’Driscoll’s omission was the right decision, Dr Kyle said “most of us would have felt that at least he should have been on the bench”.
“If Gatland felt, ‘okay, Brian isn’t playing up to his usual high standard, but he’s a guy who could turn a game and if he’s on the bench he may get an opportunity to show what he can do in the last 20 or 25 minutes’ - and I think we’d have liked to see him on the bench at least.”
In spite of the furore over O’Driscoll’s exile, Dr Kyle said it was important for Irish people to get behind the Lions nonetheless.
“I think we were hoping the Lions would win no matter who was on the bench or who was on the team because they are representing the British island and Ireland and we would hope they would have a victory.”
Asked who he thought would emerge victorious, Dr Kyle said it would be a close game - but difficult to beat Australia in Sydney.
“This is the big decider being played in Sydney - I think the Australians are going to be very hard to beat to put it mildly,” he said “But there is the unknown factor in sport and you never know how it’s going to turn out until the game is ended.
“I think the Lions have a very good chance but Australia are a tough side to beat and there will be very few points difference - it won’t be any big victory for one side or the other,” he added.