British & Irish Lions
Gatland defends O'Driscoll axing
Thu, 04 Jul 2013 07:48
It becomes a major story for 48 hours
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has stood firm in the face of criticism of his decision to axe Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll from the side for the decisive third Test against Australia.
Gatland described the controversial omission of O'Driscoll as a "sound rugby decision".
"Brian [O'Driscoll] is obviously very, very disappointed, as any player would be," Gatland said, when quizzed about the most contentious of his team selections - a side that features 10 Welshmen in the starting XV and another on the replacement bench.
"It's kind of hard when you've been the No.1 in your position for so long and first choice on every team you've been a part of, and on every B&I Lions team you've been the first choice as well.
"We've made a really tough decision, a tough call and that's part of it.
"You're making the decision with your head and not your heart. I have to put hand on my heart and say it's the right rugby decision.
"I thought the performance of Jonathan [Davies] against New South Wales [Waratahs] was probably one of the best displays I've seen from him.
"Our kicking game was poor last week - we wanted to put the ball behind them a little bit which we didn't do well enough.
"He's a left-foot kicking option for us. He didn't get a lot of ball to go forward but, when he did carry, he made a couple of good dents in them."
Gatland said he will take the criticism that comes with such selections.
"You realise what comes of making a decision like that, the peripheral stuff, not the rugby decision.
"It becomes a major story for 48 hours and it becomes a debate. But that's the process we've gone through.
"I can go back to the UK after this either saying: 'did I make the decision because I believed it was the right decision?' or 'did I make the decision because it was the right political decision, or the one with sentiment?'
"I can honestly say it's the right rugby decision."
Although O'Driscoll, who made his Lions debut on the 2001 tour of Australia, has now played his last match in the famous red shirt, Gatland said he thought the 34-year-old had shown his professionalism in his reaction to being dropped.
"He's not finished yet," Gatland added. "He's been a big part of this tour. He played in the first two Tests ...
"He's obviously very disappointed, as any player would be. It's a learning process.
"It's harder when you've been the No 1 player in your position for 15 years, when you've been first choice of every team you've been a part of, including every Lions team.
"There's a lot of people who've been under him who have experienced the disappointment of Brian O'Driscoll being selected ahead of them.
"It's part of sport isn't it? Sometimes it happens."
Gatland also spoke of the other selections, having brought in six new faces to his starting side and three more to the replacements bench as the Lions go in search of a first series success of the 21st century.
Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Sean O'Brien and Toby Faletau all come into the pack, with Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts joining the backline in what Gatland has described as a series of extremely tight calls.
"A lot of the calls in the first two games were tight: if those players had been fit, that potentially could have been the midfield for the first Test; Tommy Bowe had been injured; there were close calls in the loose forwards before that as well.
"The change at hooker is that Tom Youngs has given us everything in the first two games and he is a little bit battered. Starting Richard and bringing Tom off the bench is a positive for us.
"Toby's had a good tour and he's been a little bit unlucky with selection. He's kept his head down and he's been working really hard. We just feel when the platform up front is really good for Jamie [Heaslip] he can play a little bit looser, he carries well. Sometimes he needs to be prepared to play a little bit tighter and hopefully Toby will give us that on Saturday."
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