Belfast Telegraph

Brian O'Driscoll's demotion was spurred by Grand Slam loss

By Conor George

Warren Gatland revealed that the conviction that it was right – in his opinion – to drop Brian O'Driscoll had its genesis, ironically, in his time as coach of Ireland.

The Lions and Wales coach referenced a lost opportunity with Ireland to win a Grand Slam title as being one of the defining moments in his coaching career.

"We had a chance to win a Grand Slam in a game against Scotland some 11 or 12 years ago," recalled Gatland.

"After that I promised myself I would always stick to my convictions when it came to a selection issue. Not including Brian was tough but it was the right rugby decision.

"I am sure we'd have won on Saturday with him if we played the way we did but I made a decision because it was what I thought was best for the team. That was the reason behind it," he added.

"That day with Ireland we lost an away game to Scotland (2001) which cost us a Grand Slam.

"Tactically, I changed the way we played, influenced by some selections. I promised myself I would never do that again, that I would never back down from what I felt would be the right decision. I'm proud that I've continued to do that following that experience with Ireland 10-12 years ago," he added.

It says much for O'Driscoll's stature that the decision to omit him from the squad for the third and final Test was still dominating the press conference the morning after a first Lions' Test Series win in 16 years.

Manager Andy Irvine again piled on the rhetoric in praise of O'Driscoll.

"He is the best player of the last 30 years," said Irvine. "And he is one of the greatest of all time.

"Brian is up there with the greats such as Mike Gibson and Gareth Thomas. For me he eclipses them all."

Gatland was still somewhat understated yesterday and he gave an insight into how the fallout from the O'Driscoll selection decision impacted on him in terms of the feedback and "vitriolic" abuse he was subjected to.

"For me it's been a learning experience and something we all need to be aware of how you communicate and how you handle certain situations," he said.

Gatland suggested heavily he might be interested in coaching the Lions on the tour to New Zealand in four years' time. It's also possible, however, he might be coaching the All Blacks against the Lions.

His contract with Wales runs until the 2015 World Cup when he will assess his options.

"If everything was right I might be tempted (by the Lions).

He continued: "But equally I might hang the boots up and enjoy a glass of red wine and a cigar on a beach ... who knows?"

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