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British Lions coach is content to let Brian O'Driscoll just walk away


File photo dated 22/06/2013 of British and Irish Lions' Brian O'Driscoll makes his way down the tunnel after during the First Test match at the Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.

File photo dated 22/06/2013 of British and Irish Lions' Brian O'Driscoll makes his way down the tunnel after during the First Test match at the Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.


File photo dated 22/06/2013 of British and Irish Lions' Brian O'Driscoll makes his way down the tunnel after during the First Test match at the Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.

Warren Gatland yesterday defended his decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll for Saturday's third and deciding Test against Australia by claiming it is the "right rugby decision".

The Lions coach has made six changes to personnel from the team that lost last Saturday's second Test and one positional switch. The jettisoning of O'Driscoll is the most controversial one, closely followed by the culling of his predecessor as Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip.

Gatland brushed off the suggestion that the decision to dispense with O'Driscoll was a hard one – "It's only hard because you're making the decision with your head and not your heart" – but his words had a hollow sound to them.

His suggestion that it will be "a 48-hour story" was hugely disingenuous.

On a Tour where injury has already claimed the 2009 Lions' captain (Paul O'Connell) and the 2013 captain (Sam Warburton) Gatland has chosen to take to the field without the most decorated and experienced (134 Ireland caps) warrior left at his disposal.

It is a monumental risk and is one all the more damning when you consider that Gatland has put his faith in 10 Welsh players who have failed to beat Australia the last three times they have faced them wearing Wales' red uniform.

He tried to laugh off the suggestion – "well, they beat them in first Test didn't they?" – but conveniently overlooked the presence of O'Connell, O'Driscoll and Heaslip that day as well as England's Tom Croft and Tom Youngs.

This is the biggest selection call of Gatland's Lions' career – including his involvement as assistant to Ian McGeechan in 2009 – and he has taken an enormous and reckless gamble.

Of course if the Lions win the game and the Series he will be hailed an oracle and it is probable he is mindful of the positive result the huge changes enforced on the Lions in 2009 had in the third Test when they defied the odds to win the match.

The Series was, however, over by then. Despite losing the third Test South Africa won the Series 2-1.

Should the Lions lose on Saturday every call Gatland has made since announcing the original touring party on April 30 will be questioned and forensically examined.

The decision to drop O'Driscoll will undoubtedly be the stand-out but Gatland believes he has made the right call and one that is removed from the politics that are inherent on tours of this nature that bring together players from four nations and, in some cases, beyond.

"If I go back to the UK after this 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 put my hand on my heart and say it's the right rugby decision," he stated.

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It shouldn't be forgotten that the Lions were within one converted penalty of losing that first Test despite Australia being decimated by injury during the game and leaving 14 points behind.

It is hard to believe that the dropping of a player of O'Driscoll's ability, presence and experience doesn't play into Australia's hands, especially as they have the momentum of the second Test win and the emotional boost of the James Horwill episode.

Privately the Wallaby camp was equal parts stunned and delighted when the team was made public. O'Driscoll is one of the few Lions' players the Australians truly fear.

Gatland has a slightly different viewpoint and believes that the effort it took the Wallabies to win the second Test will count against them on Saturday.

"It was a one-point game last week and they were absolutely desperate," he said.

"The question for Australia is, can they get themselves emotionally up for this game. I'm not sure that they can do that.

"I've been involved in teams before and seen how massive emotion can play in terms of results. I can go back to 2005 when I was coaching Wasps against Leicester.

"We played the last game of the round, Neil Back and Martin Johnson's last game at Welford Road and I went there and completely underestimated the emotion of those two players playing their last game at home and Wasps were well beaten by Leicester at Welford Road.

"Two weeks later in the Premiership final, they couldn't bring the same emotion and we put 40 points on them.

"So it's hard to get yourself completely on the edge every week and I think that had to be it last week, when you saw the reaction of James Horwill after the game and what it meant. We're disappointed and we think emotionally we can improve for it but there's a question whether they can do the same thing," he added.

Gatland has entrusted the quest for improvement to the Welsh players he has worked with over number of seasons. The distinctly Welsh influence is extended to the captaincy which he handed to Alun Wyn Jones.

The other changes see Jonathan Davies moved to outside-centre to accommodate Jamie Roberts, who missed the first two Tests because of a hamstring injury. Mike Phillips returns at scrum-half after missing Melbourne because of a knee complaint, while the front and back rows are beefed up with hard scrummagers and tough ball-carriers.

Alex Corbisiero returns at prop and Richard Hibbard starts his first Test at hooker. Ireland's Sean O'Brien is included at openside flanker with Toby Faletau ousting Jamie Heaslip at the base of the scrum.

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