Team selections often bring about a range of emotions, rarely though do they induce one that completely shocks you though.
Yesterday I experienced one that I had never felt about a selection before – sadness.
Sadness that Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions career should end like this, sadness that we will never get to see him play in that red shirt again. Sadness that in the build up to the biggest game of these players lives the focus will be on the negatives.
I have been accused of being too much of a romantic about Oâ€™Driscoll, my answer? Yes, unashamedly. However my sadness at the selection from a romantic point of view does not cloud my disbelief at the decision from a tactical point of view.
Brian O’Driscoll made some errors last weekend, of that there is no doubt, however he was one of many and his defensive performance was characteristically exemplary. He is the natural replacement for Sam Warburton as captain, something that made Warren Gatland’s implication that leadership was not particularly high up on his selection criteria all the more baffling.Â
In a side that is designed to batter the Australians, the subtlety of play and cute running lines of O’Driscoll’s would have provided a valuable foil to the destruction around him, whilst his experience, leadership and desire could have proved vital in what seems likely to be another close game.
In all of this there should be no criticism of either Alun Wyn Jones or Jonathan Davies though. Alun Wyn Jones has been outstanding on this tour and, to use a popular phrase, he is a real student of the game. Ahead of the tour he was an outside bet for the captaincy due to this leadership and committed style of play; he will do a fine job, and who can honestly say they are not looking forward to seeing him eyeballing James Horwill at the coin toss?
Davies too must be shielded from the â€œNoâ€™Driscollâ€ questions as much as possible. He has been one of the stars of the tour and deserves a Test spot, it is important the there is clarity that any dissatisfaction with the decision to drop Oâ€™Driscoll is due to Oâ€™Driscoll not being there, not any dissatisfaction with who is there.
That is my pragmatic problem with the decision, Oâ€™Driscoll has qualities that the Lions will miss and the media storm around his absence puts unnecessary extra pressure on those selected.
The romantic point of view is irrelevant to the result, which is why in a way I admire Gatlandâ€™s utterance yesterday when he said:
“When I go back to the UK and say ‘Did I make the decision because I believed it was right, or did I make it because it was the right political decision?’, I can put my hand on my heart and say I think it is the right rugby decision.â€
Personally I may not agree, but you have to admire the courage to use only his head and not his heart.
However while the romantic side of things may not seem to be directly important to the result it is important to many in the rugby community, myself included.
What is true about the romantic side though is that in games of this magnitude the smallest of margins often decide it, as we have seen in the last two Tests. Brian Oâ€™Driscoll obviously craves this series victory more than any player, his hunger for it is unmistakable and his teammates have been speaking in total awe of him.
In a tight game like Saturday that incredible desire could make the difference, it would rub off on his teammates, geeing them up almost through osmosis. Oâ€™Driscoll has also made a habit in his career of fulfilling the romantic aspect of the game. When important scores are required, he scores them. How many times have we seen an Oâ€™Driscoll piece of magic rescue Ireland or Leinster. He has a habit of being there when it counts. It is an immeasurable quality, which is perhaps why Gatland has chosen to ignore it, but it is certainly there.
Oâ€™Driscoll has stared into the whites of his opponents eyes at the death of many a game and they have almost always blinked first. He induces fear at those moments.
It is a crying shame, the game seemed set up for the great man to seal his most coveted prize in the most dramatic and romantic fashion.
Worse than that though, it is a bad decision.
Oh how I hope I am wrong.
By Angus Savage