Willie John McBride leads attack over Brian O'Driscoll's axe
Willie John McBride, the Ulsterman who re-wrote British & Irish Lions history, led a torrent of condemnation and astonishment at coach Warren Gatland's shock decision to omit Brian O'Driscoll from Saturday's decisive third Test in Sydney.
From being widely expected to lead the team out as captain, O'Driscoll's illustrious Lions career will end with him not even on the bench – "for rugby reasons," Gatland stated.
The Ireland centre (right) reacted with typical good grace: "Obviously totally gutted at being left out for deciding Test but all efforts go into preparing the boys to see it through."
But McBride and other leading rugby figures were more forthright.
McBride, the 1974 Lions captain, reacted: "I was absolutely gutted, too. The first thing that came into my mind was that Deans, the Australian coach, must be laughing all the way."
Former Ireland and Lions hooker Keith Wood labelled the decision "a massive mistake."
And in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, former Old Belvedere, Leinster, Ireland and Lions out-half Ollie Campbell admitted he was "stunned" by the omission.
“The Australian media and others, Eddie Jones the previous Australian coach, have convinced them to drop O'Driscoll which I find amazing,” Willie John contended.
“He was the guy I would have tipped as captain of the Tour. He has been a big influence so far. You live and die by the team you pick and we will see what Saturday brings.
“Brian O'Driscoll has been the greatest player we have ever produced in Ireland and I still think he is a major influence in any team.”
The man whose 1974 tourists earned themselves the nickname ‘The Invincibles’ was not alone in questioning Gatland’s wisdom in axing his most experienced player.
Former Ireland and Lions hooker Keith Wood labelled the decision “a massive mistake.”
And former out-half Campbell admitted to having been “stunned”.
“I’m shocked. I didn’t see that coming at all. Quite the opposite, in fact; not only did I think he would be named in the side to play but that he would captain the team as well. Without Sam Warburton and Paul O’Connell, in current terminology, it was a no-brainer,” Campbell said.
Stressing the enormity of the decision, he said: “It’s huge. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s probably the biggest single selection decision in the history of the Lions.
“On the Richter Scale of Lions Test selections this is right up there.
“I think this is a decision that will be talked about and discussed for years and decades to come.”
Keith Wood added: “I’ve been uncomfortable throughout this tour whenever Warren Gatland has spoken about the captaincy.
“Having been on two Lions tours myself under (former England skipper) Martin Johnson, I would have said the leadership of the captain was the most important thing.
“Brian O’Driscoll has been quiet in the two Tests, but at every stage he has been the clarion call once Paul O’Connell got injured. I just think Gatland has made a terrible mistake.”