Warren Gatland has revealed that dropping Brian O’Driscoll for the final and deciding Test of this year’s Lions tour of Australia was the toughest decision of his coaching career.
The veteran centre, who was on his fourth Lions tour, played in the first two Tests but was left out of the match squad for the 41-16 victory as coach Gatland opted for the Welsh pair of Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts.
Gatland came in for plenty of criticism for that decision but revealed that it was one that he agonised over. “It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my coaching career,” he said on the Late Late Show.
"It was incredibly tough. And the thing about it is particularly someone like Brian, who has been a legend in the game, I gave him his first cap at 19, and to be the first person to drop him in his rugby career was tough.
"Hand on my heart, sitting around as coaches to pick the side for the third Test, we felt we picked a team that would go out and do a job.
"The mandate that I was given by the Lions board was do whatever it takes to win a Test series in Australia, and the Lions hadn't won for 16 years, and previously there had only ever been three successful Lions tours ever.
"Sometimes you've got to make decisions that aren't always the most popular. I knew there was going to be a fallout, but I didn't realise how big."
"Sometimes you've got to make decisions that aren't always the most popular. I knew there was going to be a fallout, but I didn't realise how big" - Warren Gatland
When pressed on why he dropped O'Driscoll for Roberts, Gatland added: "Well I think Jamie Roberts had come back from injury, so it meant having him available for the combination of Jamie and Jonathan in midfield.
"Nothing against Brian's performance in the first and the second Test."
Gatland went on to describe how informing players of such decision is the hardest part of his job and something he always does with difficulty, saying: "As a coach, when you go and talk to players and give them bad news, it's the hardest thing about coaching and it's always difficult to do.
"But at the end of the day selection is just a matter of opinion, and that's all it was, just a matter of opinion" - Warren Gatland
"But at the end of the day selection is just a matter of opinion, and that's all it was, just a matter of opinion. That was just our opinion of what we thought was the best team for that third Test.
“It was such a tough call to make. Hand on my heart I felt, and I’ve got to believe, that we made the right decision but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect other people for disagreeing with the selection that we made.
“It’s understandable he [O’Driscoll[ wanted desperately to be part of that third Test team.
"We left other players out in terms of Jamies Heaslip, Tom Youngs at hooker – we made changes there as well.
"I took no pleasure out of it. It was difficult afterwards to enjoy the result and it took a bit of time because it was such a tough call to make."