Legacy of a divisive Lions tour adds spice as rivalry with Wales renewed

The treatment of Brian O’Driscoll by Warren Gatland is just one subplot

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 01:00

“We’re not in Syria,” said Alun Wyn Jones this week, “so I don’t think it’s as hostile as you like to make out.”

The Welsh secondrow was reacting to a pestering question about residue from the Lions tour rearing its head in Dublin. The levels of vitriol spat from the Lansdowne roar this afternoon will measure the hostility.

Or maybe not.

Last Thursday night in the back bar of O’Brien’s on Leeson Street, some elderly Welsh choir boys broke into song. Their version of Molly Malone was spine-tinglingly good.

It was a reminder that this ancient rivalry will outlast Warren Gatland, Brian O’Driscoll and all of us in attendance for the latest instalment. But still this weekend it matters a little more than usual.

Irish people mine a perceived sleight better than most. That Gatland removed O’Driscoll from his squad for the third test against the discombobulated Wallabies, despite doubts over Manu Tuilagi’s fitness, fractured our national sporting psyche.

Undress the hype any way you please but in the summer of 2013 Gatland made these decisions. They can never be undone. But they will be re-examined today.

Defenders of the coach’s decisions point blindly to the series victory but these decisions certainly didn’t hinder his chances of getting a new long-term contract as Wales head coach. Even O’Driscoll went on the offensive on Twitter this week in an attempt to dilute the hype. He didn’t like a headline.

“It’s all very well people within the camp saying ‘it doesn’t really affect us,’ but it will and it does,” said former Welsh and current Gloucester coach Nigel Davies. “It will be a factor.”

Unwarranted smear
Even with Jonathan Davies recuperating from injury, the decision to field the Welsh midfield, when Jamie Roberts returned, against Australia is still seen as an unwarranted smear on the legacy of Ireland’s greatest ever player.

Gatland has enjoyed many fruitful years coaching in this country and decided to appear on The Late, Late Show a few months ago. The “win the mammys over and the rest will follow” defence. Again, the crowd will tell you if it worked.

Lost in this storm was Jamie Heaslip. Toby Faletau came in at number eight but, as Malcolm O’Kelly explains, really it was a case of Heaslip being usurped by Seán O’Brien.

“I think a backrow is all about combinations and for me, Seán’s inclusion [when Sam Warburton was injured] was a big thing as he was an essential ball carrier. I didn’t think Faletau had had a good tour, while Jamie did, but after the second test heads had to roll.”

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