Gatland on the defensive

Warren Gatland (AFP)
Warren Gatland (AFP)

Sydney - The controversial omission of Brian O'Driscoll from the British and Irish Lions side for Saturday's third and decisive Test against Australia in Sydney was done for sound rugby reasons, says coach Warren Gatland.

The axing of the Lions great from the matchday squad provoked outrage in Ireland on Wednesday, a fury not assuaged by Gatland, the Wales coach, including 10 players from the principality in his starting XV.

"You're making the decision with your head and not your heart," New Zealander Gatland told reporters in Noosa, Queensland after the team was announced.

"And then you realise what comes of making a decision like that, the peripheral stuff, not the rugby decision.

"It becomes a major story for 48 hours and it becomes a debate. But that's the process we've gone through.

"I can go back to the UK after this either 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 honestly say it's the right rugby decision."

That decision was to reunite fit-again battering ram Jamie Roberts and his Wales centre partner Jonathan Davies with England's Manu Tuilagi providing cover from the bench.

Although O'Driscoll, who made his Lions debut on the 2001 tour of Australia, has now played his last match in the famous red shirt, Gatland said he thought the 34-year-old had shown his professionalism in his reaction to being dropped.

"He's not finished yet," Gatland added. "He's been a big part of this tour. He played in the first two Tests ...

"He's obviously very disappointed, as any player would be. It's a learning process.

"It's harder when you've been the No 1 player in your position for 15 years, when you've been first choice of every team you've been a part of, including every Lions team.

"There's a lot of people who've been under him who have experienced the disappointment of Brian O'Driscoll being selected ahead of them.

"It's part of sport isn't it? Sometimes it happens."

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England 204 & 284/8 (104 ov)
West Indies 318
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