O'Driscoll out as Lions make changes ahead of third test
Gatland includes 10 Welshmen in selection for final showdown, with no place for O'Driscoll
Irish rugby fans, former players and politicians reacted with anger and bewilderment yesterday when they woke to the news that Brian O'Driscoll had been dropped for the British and Irish Lions' crucial third test against Australia.
The talismanic centre, regarded as Ireland's greatest ever player, was tipped to captain Warren Gatland's side for the series decider but was instead axed for the first time in his 15-year career.
Gatland, who is also the head coach of Six Nations champions Wales, replaced O'Driscoll with Jamie Roberts, one of 10 Welshmen in the starting 15.
The decision dominated morning news shows, stoked ire on Twitter and led one former Lions great, ex-Ireland captain Keith Wood, to accuse Gatland of damaging the traditions of the touring side.
"I think he has sidestepped what the Lions is all about, which is the blending of four countries. I think it does the Lions a disservice," Wood said of Gatland, who also picked three Irishmen and two from England to start on Saturday. Scotland's sole representative is lock Richie Gray, who is on the bench.
"I'm upset for the Lions and I'm really upset for Brian ... I think Brian gets the Lions more than Warren Gatland does if I'm brutally honest," said Wood, who was part of the last Lions team to win a test series in 1997.
O'Driscoll, Ireland's record try scorer who led his country to a first grand slam in 61 years in 2009 and is on his fourth Lions tour, reacted gracefully to the decision.
"Obviously totally gutted at being left out for deciding Test but all efforts go into preparing the boys to see it through," he wrote on Twitter.
Irish rugby fans were less understanding. The hashtag #justiceforBOD, a reference to the 34-year-old's initials and nickname, was the most popular term on Twitter in Ireland.
Northern Ireland's deputy first minister Martin McGuinnes summed up the feelings of many when he took to the social network to describe Gatland's call as "mind boggling".
O'Driscoll was expected by many to take the captaincy after Sam Warburton suffered a tour-ending hamstring injury, but instead his 12-year career with the tourists comes to an end.
"Obviously he was pretty disappointed as anyone is disappointed but he appreciated the fact that he was spoken to before the announcement," Gatland said. "It's the first time any coach has ever had that decision with him in 15 years of rugby so it's not easy for that to be the first time. He's still going to be very important to us in the next 72 hours in terms of his experience and leadership."
Even Roberts admitted he was surprised. "A thousand people have said it before me, and thousands will say it again," he said. "He is one of the greatest players to have played this game.
"Surprised is not the right word. Warren has made some big calls and ultimately you respect the coach's decision. He's picked the team that he feels will win Saturday, whether that includes Brian O'Driscoll or not.
"To show what kind of guy he is, he [O'Driscoll] was the first guy to come up to me after training."