Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 26 January 2022
Advertisement

Reaction: Bittersweet symphony as Gatland's Lions eventually get the job done

The Kiwi coach has his Lions victory, but a missing Irish centre still overshadows the win.

Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

WINNING JUSTIFIES EVERYTHING.

With the Lions comprehensive 16-41 trouncing of Australia in Sydney Warren Gatland breathes a huge sigh of relief and many will offer him congratulatory pats on the back on making the ‘hard selection calls’.

The final scoreline, though, gives the false impression that this was not another emotional roller-coaster.

The tourists began with searing intent. Mike Phillips’ quick-tap penalty was his most valuable contribution of the night and it led to Alex Corbisiero try which laid the foundation on the scoreboard.

The foundation on the field was laid by the English prop too as the red scrum finally became the weapon we had all been promised in the build-up to this series.

All that followed – the 40 points, the four tries, the historical first series win since 1997 – came about because Australia were vastly inferior in the front row.

“I don’t take a lot of pleasure out of it.” Warren Gatland told SkySports in the aftermath. He hadn’t been asked about his big selection decision in midfield, but he hit it off at the pass. It’s clearly weighing heavily on his mind.

“The last three or four days have been hard. I had to make a tough call on Tuesday leaving Brian out.”

The addition of O’Driscoll could hardly have brought about a better result, but all his omission created was a balanced midfield: Jamie Roberts still looked like a man hampered by the strapping on his hamstring. Jonathan Davies stepped into the big shoes in his preferred 13 channel thanks to having a traditional inside centre in harness with him.

SEE SPORT
DIFFERENTLY

Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

With penalties coming thick and fast via the scrum, the Lions marched into a 19-3 lead after just 25 minutes. The back-line remained functional, but they were merely along for the ride here as the pack got the job done.

O’Driscoll thanks the man who delivered his first series win. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The big call which did pay off for Gatland was the selection of Sean O’Brien and the back row. The Tullow man made his considerable bulk count at the breakdown with a tackle count in double figures in the first half alone. Injury restricted him to 15 in the end, and he left after a stage when the Lions looked vulnerable against an inferior side.

James O’Connor used a rare useful gold scrum to break a weak Jonathan Sexton tackle and the game was back on before the sides entered half time at 10-19.   Christian Leali’ifano kicked the Wallabies to within three points after 46 minutes and western Europe feared that another gut-wrenching comeback was on the cards.

Bittersweet

Entering the third quarter, however, it was the positions where there had been little to no selection debate which made the difference. Tommy Bowe and Leigh Halfpenny combined to set up Sexton’s pivotal score and the fullback (named man of the series) was at it again minutes later to send George North cruising to the corner.

Roberts would go over too, picking a superb line from Conor Murray’s perfectly timed pass, but it’s difficult to escape a feeling that O’Driscoll was not the one to put icing on the cake.

“I’ve taken a bit of flak.” Gatland continued, “I don’t want to gloat or feel vindicated, it was a tough call. it was about the boys today and a winning series. Mixed emotions.”

Many supporters felt the same in the build-up to this decisive third Test, and Gatland will have won many of them over again. He has his Lions win on his CV, but this is a job which could have easily been done more clinically or with a lot more style.

How the Lions rated in their 3rd Test victory over Australia

As it happened: Lions v Australia, Third Test – 2013 Tour

About the author:

Sean Farrell

Read next:

COMMENTS (35)