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Will Carling

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No O'Driscoll

Posted: 04/07/2013 14:54

Brian Odriscoll

Yes he is just one man - and this is a team game - and yes he might have just lost the finest of edges, but it was still a huge shock to me that Brian O'Driscoll's name was not on the team sheet, and that it did not have 'capt' after it...

Now don't jump to any conclusions about my view on Jonathan Davies, or any nationalistic rubbish! The man is not English (which is a massive shame!) so I have no 'country' axe to grind here.

I also hold my hands up and say that I am biased, no doubt about it, I am! I think O'Driscoll has been one of the stand-out players of his generation and one of if not the greatest players Ireland has produced. He has the full range of attributes needed by a centre: Acceleration, vision, distribution, speed, bravery, madness, great hair, relish for battle, the collisions, hunting the ball in the tackle... He possessed the lot. And having been lucky enough to meet him a few times, he is one hell of a guy too.

BUT - all that is not the real reason that I am stunned he has been dropped. I am stunned as the case for dropping him is far from compelling.

Yes Jonathan Davies played very well in a few build up games, and yes I do think he is a very talented player. But in the two Test matches, I do not feel he delivered performances that were better than O'Driscoll - in fact defensively I would say slightly the opposite. Gatland wants to play a power-based game and hence I can see the return of big Jamie Roberts as entirely logical. Hopefully he will give the Lions a target over the gainline from which to develop their momentum and attack. No issue there.

So the case for dropping O'Driscoll must therefore be that Gatland believes Davies' extra games alongside Roberts at national level with Wales give him an edge over O'Driscoll. My problem with that, quite simply, is that train of thought could be applied across so many positions, such as half-backs, locks, locks and hookers, back row, wings and full backs, wings and centres, that the whole premise of picking the best players for the Lions would be negated by picking national combinations?

I admire the loyalty that Gatland has shown to many of the Welsh players and the truth is that this Lions team should be hugely Welsh-influenced because they are the best players. I do not think any sane rugby fan could have an issue with that. The Test side I would pick has nine Welsh players rather than 10, so hardly any change. And we fans need to stop moaning about how many, or how few of our national team are in the side, this is not the United Nations, or Britain's Got Talent, this is about picking a winning side to beat the Aussies.

So why is the O'Driscoll selection of such significance? Because when you walk out to play a 'must win' game, which this third Test certainly is, you need to have a certain number of hardened, experienced winners in that lineup. The Lions have lost Warburton, O'Connell, and Jenkins already, and O'Driscoll was one of the key 'old heads' left to include. He has so much experience, so much ability, that even if it can be argued that he is just not quite the honed athlete he was a year or two ago, he is still a damn site better than any other 13 in my view. He also carries the scars of twelve years ago, he carries that pain and, believe me, when it comes to squeezing the last reserves out of yourself in a big game, those scars, that pain goes a bloody long way to dragging you up off the floor to tackle, to fight, to cover, in order that you do not have to suffer them again.

So Gatland denies himself his most experienced player, a leader as well as a great player on the eve of his biggest game. It is a bloody brave call. He knew the furore that would follow, and he must have convinced his other selectors that this was the right call. So brave and persuasive.

And as we all know, his decision will only be fully judged in the shadow of the result. Harsh but, ultimately, sport.

So, no, my shock had absolutely nothing to do with the number of Welsh guys in the Test team, I fully understand their selection, and agree with it. My shock was the dropping of a Lions icon, my shock was that Gatland had shown the nerve, the balls, and the ruthlessness to do it. That I admire as that is what makes great teams - the ruthless pursuit of winning and the absence of sentiment. So without getting too confusing, I admire that bravery of the call, I just disagree with the judgement of the player.

But it is done, and the Lions still have to beat the Aussies. They have already beaten the IRB, so worryingly they are on a roll. If they win, we will have the nightmare about Waltzing Matilda, and Campo will have another twelve years of boring us senseless with his spelling mistakes and gloating on Twitter! It doesn't bear thinking about.

So quite simply the Lions need to maximise their scrummaging superiority, they need to improve their lineout performance, they have to shackle the multitude of runners in the Aussie backline and they have to breach the Aussie defence to score. Simple! The Lions will not win through penalties alone, as this Aussie side will score tries and thus too many points for even the brilliant Leigh Halfpenny to deal with. So hopefully a side picked to charge down Route One, might also have enough subtlety to use some side roads and alleys and unlock the Aussie defence.

Here's hoping Saturday will be remembered for a great Lions victory, one that even O'Driscoll can enjoy amongst the squad in the stand, and will not be remembered for the dropping of a truly great Lion and that it will inevitably entail...

 

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