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Lions CEO defends management as O'Brien clarifies position following criticism

‘My views on the Lions tour were honest and genuine and solely with the intention of building on what was a great tour,’ writes O’Brien.

Sean O'Brien in action against the All Blacks.
Sean O'Brien in action against the All Blacks.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LIONS CHIEF EXECUTIVE John Feehan has responded to Sean O’Brien’s recent criticism, and shown his support for Warren Gatland and his backroom team.

In comments made to the media this week, Ireland and Leinster flanker O’Brien took aim at the approach of the backroom team during the Lions’ summer tour of New Zealand.

The Lions drew the three-Test series, but O’Brien said that he felt that the tourists should have won it out.

“I think we should have won 3-0 with the players we had, we should have won the series,” O’Brien said, in some of his comments.

“Johnny [Sexton] and Faz [Owen Farrell] were the ones running our attack shape,” he says. ”The coaches have a lot to answer for in terms of our attack rather than Johnny and Faz trying to drive it.

“If I was being critical of any coach it would be the fact that I think Rob (Howley — the attack coach) struggled with the group in terms of his attributes of trying to get stuff across whereas Johnny and Owen drove everything the second week, for instance, in our attack and had a better plan in place.

“They [the Lions] have to learn from it going forward. Whether I am there or not in four years is a different story. Coaching-wise they need to make sure they have the best coaches in the best positions, attack, defence, forwards, whatever it may be on a Lions tour.”

Warren Gatland, John Feehan and John Spencer Gatland, Feeha and John Spencer, Tour Manager. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Feehan responded through a statement:

“I said all along that I think we had the best coaching team available and I think they proved that in what we achieved in New Zealand,” it read.

“To draw a series with the All Blacks, who had not lost a Test match at home for eight years, was a remarkable result, and Warren and the coaches deserve huge credit for that.

“People will always have their views on what could have been done better but the fact is that, against all the odds and with limited preparation time, this squad became only the second Lions team in history to either win or draw a series in New Zealand in 13 attempts.

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“That achievement cannot be underestimated.”

Meanwhile, O’Brien has posted a statement on his Twitter account to clarify his position ‘once and for all’.

“To be clear, my views on the Lions tour were honest and genuine and solely with the intention of building on what was a great tour.

“Unfortunately some people have focused on what I feel we could have done better instead of what we did well.

“I have nothing but respect for Warren and the whole coaching team, in addition to the rest of the back room staff and squad of players.

“But do I believe we — the players and coaches — could have done better? Yes. Do I believe we could have won the series? Yes. Do I believe the Lions squad in 2021 will be better for this? Yes.

“If we don’t look to build on and improve on the tour to New Zealand how can future Lions squads do better?

“It is a privilege and an honour to be called a British & Irish Lion and I hope this clarifies my position once and for all.”

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