Warren Gatland stands over his decision to drop Brian O’Driscoll for Sydney decider
“I have to put hand on my heart and say it’s the right rugby decision”
Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts will team up in Sydney.
Brian O’Driscoll had the courtesy of being informed prior to the squad hearing the formal team announcement for the third Test. It’s a courtesy not afforded many, but he deserved that much. It won’t have made the news any easier to take, and one imagines it can’t have been a pleasant experience for the coach who granted O’Driscoll his first Test start here in Australia 14 summers go to effectively end his Lions’ career.
Much more forthcoming to a group of newspaper journalists than he had been in front of the cameras ten or 15 minutes earlier, and no doubt fully cognisant of the bombshell he had just dropped, Gatland admitted: “It’s only hard because you are making the decision by using your head and not your heart. Then you realise that what comes of making a decision like that is all the peripheral stuff; not the rugby decision, because it becomes a major story for 48 hours and it becomes a debate.
“That is the process I’ve gone through myself. If I go back to the UK after this and say ‘Did I make the decision because I believe it’s the right decision or did I make the decision because it was the right political decision or sentiment?’ I have to put hand on my heart and say it’s the right rugby decision.”
Gatland has again shown he is not afraid to make tough or unpopular calls. It was put to him that sentiment doesn’t play a part. “That’s why it was a big part of the thought process to go back and say, I would hate to think we had made calls on trying to avoid criticism or public favour or perception. Public popularity I suppose.”
In a similar context, having ended O’Driscoll’s Lions’ playing career, Gatland said: “He has been a big part of the story. He played in the first two Tests . . . He is obviously very, very disappointed as any player would be but it’s like everything, it’s a learning process.”
“It’s kind of hard when you’ve been the number one in your position for so long, for 15 years, and first choice on every team you’ve been a part of, and on every Lions team you’ve been the first choice as well.
“There have been a lot of people under him who have experienced the disappointment of Brian O’Driscoll always being selected over them. It’s just part of sport, isn’t it? Sometimes it happens and we’ve made a really tough decision, a tough call and that’s part of it.”
Given the Lions have lost one former captain, as well as their current one, to voluntarily sacrifice their other former captain really does look careless, and at any rate leaves a gaping void in proven leaders. But when asking him if he was concerned about this Gatland said: “I don’t see it as an issue at all. Alun Wyn Jones has captained his club side a lot, he has captained Wales in the past. We went and picked what we thought was the best team.