Warren Gatland’s place in the history books is already secure given his achievements with Wasps and Wales. The opportunity to cement his position as the leading coach in world rugby will be determined by the outcome of tonight’s (this morning for the Northern Hemisphere) final test in Sydney. Gatland has controversially ended Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions career in a selection which will also define Gatland’s. His bravery is to be applauded and he is assured of the support of the fanatical Lions fans. Their view of him thereafter will be determined by the result.
The selection of Alun Wyn Jones as captain is potentially a master stroke. While not an experienced captain at international level, his place has never been in doubt for the test side. Gatland says that the team was selected first and only then was the captain chosen. Controversy has surrounded James Horwill since the first test, and he will now come face to face with Jones when they meet for the coin toss before the game. The Lions will be looking to put the issue to bed for once and for all by winning the series. What great motivation for captain and team alike.
With 10 Welsh, 3 Irish and 2 English players, Gatland is placing his trust with the players who have served him well in the Six Nations. He also has the dubious distinction of being the first coach to drop O’Driscoll in the Irishman’s fourteen year international career. The selection of Richard Hibbert, Jamie Roberts and Sean O’Brien suggests that the Lions will play the power game. Richie Gray has replaced Ryan Grant on the bench in a move which may be seen as Scottish tokenism by some. All of this will be forgotten if the Lions manage to get up and secure the series with a win in Sydney.
Before the tour, Brian O’Driscoll was quoted as saying that he would sooner not make the test side and the Lions beat the Wallabies than play in another losing series. Few would have imagined him ending up in this predicament but I am sure that he will be professional and statesmanlike in how he responds to being dropped. O’Driscoll now joins Sam Warburton and Paul O’Connell in the stands with the most passionate rugby supporters of them all. The travelling fans from Great Britain and Ireland continue to mesmerize their hosts with their good humour, great sportsmanship and unquenchable thirst!
The tour was slow to get going with the rather tedious commercially driven game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong followed by four matches in Australia against weak opposition. The defeat by the Brumbies in the week leading up to the first test was a reality check for the Lions and a reminder that the business end of the tour was rapidly approaching. With an aggregate score so far of 38-37 in favour of the Lions, the test series has been enthralling. Gatland’s selection and the return of George Smith to the Wallaby starting fifteen ensure that the drama will reach a concluding crescendo in Sydney on Saturday. May the best team win.