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A sad, harsh end for Brian O'Driscoll as Gatland backs his Welsh boys

The Lions coach has given Australia a huge psychological boost ahead of the Third Test on Saturday.

Brian O'Driscoll will play no part in Saturday's Third Test.
Brian O'Driscoll will play no part in Saturday's Third Test.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

AN EARLY MORNING team announcement ahead of the third and deciding Lions Test against Australia. TheScore.ie felt like it was Christmas morning only to unwrap a shiny, red package to find a lump of Welsh coal.

Brian O’Driscoll’s illustrious, occasionally tragic, always committed, Lions career is over. His old wrecking-ball buddy, Jamie Roberts returns from a hamstring tear to start at inside centre. The spot outside him is filled by Roberts’ compatriot, Jonathan Davies. The Scarlets man sparkled in the 13 jersey early on tour but offered little when he was shifted to first receiver in the backline and his defensive lapse led to Australia’s game-clinching try in the Second Test.

Manu Tuilagi has got the call to sit and study on the replacements bench as head coach Warren Gatland seeks some of his destructive magic in a game with everything riding on it.

Gatland commented, “It was quite the lively meeting we had with the coaches last night in terms of going through and making the final selection. It was tough but we’ve come up with a side that we believe is good enough to do the job on Saturday.”

We suggested, following the Lions 16-15 loss, that O’Driscoll’s place might be in trouble but, with tour captain Sam Warburton struggling with the hamstring tear that would eventually ruled him out of the Third Test, argued that Gatland would not risk dropping another totem. Warburton, Paul O’Connell and now O’Driscoll will watch, helpless, from the sidelines as a buoyant Australia scent victory.

With Wallaby captain James Horwill cleared to play in the series decider after his trial and retrial for a stamp, on new Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones, and George Smith rumoured to be in the selection mix for Saturday, most of the psychological boons are going the way of the home side. One would not be surprised to hear their coach, Robbie Deans announce the miraculous recovery of flanker David Pocock, such is the remarkable momentum shift.

Gatland, pictured here with Paul O’Connell, has decided to go with what he knows in Sydney. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

The writing may have been on the wall for O’Driscoll some 12 hours before Gatland named his Lions XV, which features 10 Welshmen. In an interview [published a 15.55pm on Tuesday] the centre told French rugby website Rugbyrama.fr that instructions for the backline to curb their attacking instincts were disappointing. O’Driscoll said, “As a back you always want to play running and passing rugby, so these tactical game are sometimes frustrating.

To win, you have to know how to play with intelligence. If that’s through kicking and pressure, you have to do it… But do it right.”

Gatland will hope that his backline of five Welshmen, and Ireland’s Tommy Bowe and Jonathan Sexton, can prove him right and use their size advantage to bust the Wallaby defence. His decision to drop O’Driscoll looks like folly now but Lions fans will hope the coach’s faith in Davies and Roberts will be rewarded.

For now, while we await the decider, let us recall a 12-year, four-tour Lions career that has encapsulated the shimmering glory of youth [his 2001 wonder try against Australia], the crushing blow of his spear-tackling injury in 2005, a shock and awe partnership with Roberts in 2009 and his role as inspirational older statesman in the current set-up.

A damn fine player too, right until the end.

What do you think of Gatland’s decision to drop O’Driscoll and his squad selections?

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Patrick McCarry

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