/ Rugby

Analysis: How could O'Driscoll be left out?

Updated: Wednesday, 03 Jul 2013 14:27 | Comments

"There is history between coach and player"
"There is history between coach and player"

By Bernard Jackman

I'll start by saying that Warren Gatland knows the Wales players better than I do and trusts them more, and that having been fortunate enough to have played with Brian O’Driscoll for a good few years I am obviously biased towards him.

Even given that, I still cannot see how he could be left out of the Test series decider in Sydney this weekend as, like most people, I thought that once Sam Warburton was ruled out O’Driscoll would captain the side.

There is history between coach and player. Gatland gave O'Driscoll his first Test start when he plucked him from a UCD team before he had even played for Leinster 15 years ago. He now becomes the first man to have dropped him since that cap.

Up to now, O’Driscoll’s form has been good if not mind blowing.

His defensive organisation and tackling have been top class and while he was harshly penalised twice in the first Test for competing on the deck when he had full rights to the ball, Romain Poite is much more lenient in this area and O’Driscoll could have had an influence under him on Saturday.

In attack, the quality of ball he has been getting is key.

The fact is that the Lions threw only 70 passes in last week’s game – proof of how conservative the game plan is and how weak the set piece was.

The decision is like a GAA manager dropping the corner forward because his team conceded five goals.

O'Driscoll can create and bring others into the game

If you want to see O’Driscoll at his best you need to get the ball into his hands as often as you can, ideally on the front foot. He will create things for those around him and if he gets a sniff of the try line he will score himself. If you need someone in the last five minutes of a big match to take responsibility he will do it.

The intercept pass and the rushed clearance kick errors that he made last week do not outweigh the positives he brings and that is even before you bring his leadership qualities into the equation.

On that front, If Gatland believes in the leadership abilities of Alun-Wyn Jones, you would expect him to have used him as a captain before with Wales. He had plenty of opportunities to do so and often opted for alternatives.

Now, under the greatest pressure that a Northern Hemisphere player is likely to face in his career, he must inspire a team that is lacking confidence and sort out a malfunctioning lineout.

What’s behind it?

Ultimately, I think that Gatland has gone with the centre partnership that he imagined would be the Test pair when he named the squad in April. The hamstring injury to Jamie Roberts upset that plan the first two Tests.

No matter how disappointed Brian O’Driscoll and the other players left out of the 23 are, they will all hope that the Lions can create history by winning the series.

Looking elsewhere, in the three other tight calls Gatland, he went for Mike Phillips, Richard Hibbard and Toby Faletau.

I can understand Faletau coming in as he is a very good player and Jamie Heaslip has not been as safe at the back of the scrum as normal. The decision as to who played at eight was one of the closest contests in the team all tour.

Phillips is the best of the three scrum-halves on tour but having been dropped completely for the second Test (injured or not depending who you believe) he is being selected on his reputation as a big game player. The Lions need him to come through and take the game to the Australians as Will Genia has been the star of the series.

Tom Youngs is also unlucky to miss out

At hooker, I think that Tom Youngs has been a revelation on this tour and that the problems at the scrum last week were down to Mako Vuniopola at loosehead. Hibbard is physically bigger but he needs a huge game to repay the faith that has been shown in him.

Alex Corbisero for Vunipola is a clear improvement in that position and should sort out the scrum issue.

The positive selections are Sean O’Brien getting his well-deserved start and his ball-carrying will test the Australian front line.

I would have selected Tipuric at seven and played O’Brien at six instead of Lydiate as I think that would be a better attacking unit.

Looking at Australia, I think they will improve again this week. They will come in on a high and look much more settled.

Their attacking shape is the more threatening of the two sides and George Smith’s return for this match gives them a frighteningly good back-row.

Other boosts like the fact that James Horwill has been cleared, and the presence of place kicker in Christian Lealiifano are also boosts.

I actually believe that if Robbie Deans had selected Quade Cooper for this series, the Wallabies would have it wrapped up already.

Even now, I think they would be better served by swapping Kurtley Beale into out-half and putting O’Connor at full-back.

The Lions spoke after last week’s loss about how defense was the mantra going into the game and how they wanted to improve their game management from Test one.

It looked like the “game management” they were speaking about meant refusing to keep the ball in hand in their own half regardless of whether the opposition had the back field covered - which they invariably do with Genia playing as a deep sweeper.

This led to clearance kicks that resulted in prolonged Australian counter attacks. Eventually, it led to the Australian try.

Australia have not been "stressed" by Welsh plan so far

When the Lions squad was selected it was clear that the plan was to "beat up" the Australians. In most cases, the biggest and most physical players available were chosen. "The Welsh" gameplan is being used to try and win the series.

This involves getting around the corner quicker than the opposition, knocking people over and wearing them down.

The Australian defense has not looked stressed by this tactic so far and I feel that this weekend, the Lions need to be more expansive.

They need to run at space and not bodies, as the Australians do, and they must be allowed to go for it when it is on in general play.

There are game-breakers in the side in Tommy Bowe, George North and Sean O’Brien and the Lions also have the best out-half on the pitch in Jonny Sexton. Up front, they need to use the maul more often as it has looked very strong so far.

How will it go?

Gatland must hope that his gut instinct is right. If the first two matches are anything to go by we are in for another nail biter.

Unfortunately, I feel that the Australians have more strings to their bow for the second week in a row and that they will sneak this Test and the series.

Bernard Jackman is the defence coach at FC Grenoble. He was a Heineken Cup winner with Leinster player and an Ireland international hooker.

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