Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan Davies knows the spotlight is on him as he inherits Brian O'Driscoll's British and Irish Lions shirt for last test

By Conor George

It could be worse for Jonathan Davies ... he could be Warren Gatland!The Wales centre was put in the unenviable position of having to justify his position in the Lions' team for Saturday's Test yesterday.

Not because he's not a good player – he absolutely is – but by dint of who he is keeping out of the team.

Davies has only moved up one number, from 12 to 13, but when the previous occupant of the number 13 shirt was Brian O'Driscoll and that's been his shirt for the past 12 years there's a little bit more to it than taking a few steps left or right.

It's not Davies' fault Warren Gatland selected him ahead of O'Driscoll and Davies, at least, realised very early on that the focus would not be upon him personally but rather on the man he displaced.

"When I saw I was down for media today, I did expect a few questions! I think that shows how great a player Brian is," he finally relented after skilfully bobbing and weaving around previous questions about O'Driscoll and his assuming the number 13 shirt.

"Like everyone who is not in the squad Brian is disappointed he's not involved. He was a total professional and congratulated me after the team was announced and we went off to training," added Davies.

The 25 year old Scarlets' player resumed his international partnership with Jamie Roberts this weekend – "Jamie has a big physical presence and will make the gainline almost every time" – and the Lions' success is likely to hinge on their combined performance.

"I wouldn't say it's pressure being selected (ahead of O'Driscoll). I'm just grateful for the opportunity to play in such a big game."

Davies (pictured) was cool throughout the questioning and tried manfully to bat away the barrage of questions about O'Driscoll.

It must have been draining for the player and was, perhaps, ill-advised to pitch him to a horde ravenous for a fresh sound-bite about what has become known as #BODgate in Ireland and, indeed, in Australia.

The majority of sound-minded people believe the jettisoning of O'Driscoll is a grave error by a coach whose tactics are coming under increasingly forensic scrutiny. They are also showing up to be flawed in the extreme.

O'Driscoll's natural game was sacrificed for Gatland's and Rob Howley's (attack-coach) version of "the greater good" and he WAS made the scapegoat for the limited game-plan the Lions have been operating.

None of that is Davies' doing of course. It would be a dis-service to suggest otherwise. But he is now under increasing pressure. His every move and any mistake made on Saturday will give fodder to those whose view is that he is the wrong man in someone else's place!

"Personally I'm pretty pleased with the way I've been playing, but I need to make sure I deliver on Saturday," was his acknowledgement of the situation Gatland has dumped him in.

His performance against the Waratahs earlier in the tour (June 15) was referenced by Gatland as Davies' "best" of the Tour. He was partnered by Roberts that day and the coach did, on Wednesday, give life to the suggestion that his preferred centre pairing was the all-Welsh one.

O'Driscoll was very generous in his praise of Davies immediately after the Waratahs' match. Little did he know three weeks' later that performance that would bring about the premature end to his Lions' playing career 12 years after first donning the famous red shirt.

"In that game against the Waratahs things went my way," said Davies. "Now I have to make sure I put myself in those positions by working hard and making sure that I deliver under pressure. On the whole I am reasonably pleased with my form but I want to keep pushing myself forward.

"There's a huge amount of pressure on to deliver, so I'm looking forward to the task," added Davies.

Jonathan Davies is a capable and personable young man who has been saddled with unenviable responsibility by his coach.

He was, in a sense, faced with his first challenge because of that yesterday when his press conference quickly assumed the nature of a cross-examination. He handled himself brilliantly and with a touch of class as he took time to lavish praise on O'Driscoll at the finish.

"What he has achieved in the game, no other might do," he said. "He has been a great player. He might not like me saying it, but I've grown up watching him play.

"I have admired his work, and to have been able to play with him was very special. I have admiration for the man and a lot of respect."

Belfast Telegraph


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