Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

You just cannot make sense of this decision, it's in a class of its own

Brian O'Driscoll
Paul Gascoigne
Alan Shearer

From time to time in the life of a sports journalist one finds oneself reporting on selection stories which so defy logic, rationale and expectation as to be totally unfathomable.

The omission of Brian O'Driscoll from the British and Irish Lions side for the series-defining third Test clash with Australia on Saturday in Sydney is one such example. Indeed, I would go further and say that as nonsensical decisions go, the bombshell dropped yesterday by coach Warren Gatland is in a class of its own.

Take your choice of adjective(s) from a lengthy list – stupid, foolish, naïve, ill-advised, crack-brained are some of the printable ones – which began doing the rounds immediately after Gatland announced his starting 15 and eight replacements for this weekend's joust with the Wallabies at the ANZ Stadium.

That there was no place in the 23 for O'Driscoll is quite staggering, particularly as a couple of days ago, the 34-year-old Dubliner had been wheeled out before the media to answer questions in the aftermath of the Lions' 16-15 defeat in Melbourne and ahead of this Saturday's winner-takes-all decider.

Convention at such media sessions is for the management to provide players who will be included come match-day. That being the case, the fact that O'Driscoll was presented in that role was taken as confirming that he would be playing. In addition, given the injury-enforced absence of tour captain Sam Warburton, the combined wisdom of all and sundry at that press-call was that Irish centre would lead the side.

From here to Warramboll and Wollongong, every Irish, British and Australian broadcaster and hack with a press-card ran the story that BOD's final appearance as a four-tours Lion would be as skipper of the 2013 side.

But Gatland did something totally unexpected and completely out of step with the norm in such circumstances by dropping the player sent out to face the press corps.

The decision to exclude the most capped centre of all time – 133 Tests, eight of those as a Lion – from a side already shorn of the leadership of Paul O'Connell (broken arm) and Warburton (torn hamstring) is indefensible. Alun-Wyn Jones is an outstanding lock forward, a time-served Lion and a Six Nations championship victor with Wales in whose colours he has been a Grand Slam winner, too.

But with the Lions having already had five captains in nine matches – O'Driscoll, O'Connell, Warburton, Rory Best and Dan Lydiate – the deployment of a sixth for so crucial a fixture makes no sense. To that error of judgment can be added Gatland's ham-fistedness in his handling of the matter, coupled with him having driven a horse and cart through the ground rules of pre-match PR protocol. For each of those reasons his position is called into question to an even greater extent.

There is no Plan B to this selection. Certainly there does not appear to be any place for the sort of subtlety, guile and sleight of hand for which O'Driscoll is famed. Clearly this is to be route one rugby – war of attrition football – with Gatland preferring brute force to flair and style. Jamie Roberts at 12 and O'Driscoll at 13 was seen as being the midfield dream ticket. No longer – at least not in Warren Gatland's thinking.

This is a huge gamble on his part and it had better come off. And regardless of how the Lions fare on Saturday he is guaranteed a tough time when he brings his Lions (sorry, Wales) team to the Aviva Stadium on February 8, 2014.

Three other famous sporting axings

Paul Gascoigne

Left out of France '98

Manager Glenn Hoddle became the man who shot Bambi when he dropped fan favourite 'Gazza' from his squad for the France 98 World Cup. The midfield maverick did not take the news as well as O'Driscoll reportedly did, though, rearranging the contents of his hotel room.

Damon Hill

Dumped despite F1 title

Hill was famously booted out of Williams at the end of his title-winning 1996 campaign, paying the price for a dismal 1995 season. While Williams hunted for a replacement, Hill racked up wins a steady rate, culminating in the Londoner clinching the title at the final race in Suzuka.

Alan Shearer

Dropped by Ruud Gullit

It would take a brave man to challenge Alan Shearer's authority on Tyneside, but Newcastle boss Ruud Gullit was willing to do so back in 1999 dropping the striker for a high-profile derby against Sunderland. Newcastle lost and soon after Gullit was sacked and Shearer quickly restored.

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