Australia v British & Irish Lions, Sydney, July 6
Gatland gambles as O'Driscoll dropped for decider
Tom Hamilton
July 3, 2013
Brian O'Driscoll, dropped by the Lions for the third and final Test, walks away from match captain Alun Wyn Jones during Lions training on Wednesday © Getty Images

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has sprung a massive surprise ahead of the third Test with Brian O'Driscoll dropped from the matchday squad and the captaincy handed to Alun Wyn Jones.

Gatland puts sentimentality to one side

  • Warren Gatland's decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll is boom or bust - it was a matter of head ruling the heart. If the British & Irish Lions win on Saturday, it will be greeted as a master-stroke, if they lose, the coach will be open to all manner of criticism for the call.
  • O'Driscoll has been a key part of this Lions tour both on and off the field. His leadership and experience have been instrumental in the build up to the Tests while his calm persona has helped calm down the new crop of Lions in the squad.
  • But the Lions' loss in Melbourne will be the final time he pulls on the famous red shirt. It is not the end he envisaged, but that's the harshness of sport. He has not been dropped in 15 years of rugby but Gatland has made that call for what promises to be the biggest game of his coaching career. He's reverted to what he knows best, the Welsh crop of players and combinations which have worked during the Six Nations. A bold call and one which will prove to be history-making one way or another.
  • Tom Hamilton

The decision to drop O'Driscoll, in what would have been his final match for the famous side, is one of the biggest stories in recent Lions history. With O'Driscoll out of the matchday squad, Jonathan Davies lines up at outside centre with Jamie Roberts returning from injury to wear the No.12 jersey.

"Brian was disappointed, but he appreciated that he was spoken to before the team announcement," Gatland said. "It's the first time that a coach has ever made the decision with him in 15 years of rugby. Jamie is back fit and has been given the nod in terms of his partnership with Davies."

Following Sam Warburton's injury in the second Test against the Wallabies, Alun Wyn Jones is handed the captaincy in what is the series-deciding match. Australia beat the Lions 16-15 last weekend in Melbourne following the Lions' triumph in the opening Test in Brisbane.

Gatland's decision to name Alun Wyn Jones as the skipper means he will come up against James Horwill, the man who on Tuesday was cleared of an act of foul play on Jones during the first Test.

"Hopefully I've been selected for the way I play and not necessarily the way I lead, it's as simple as that," Jones said. "I've played from the start of the tour with an eye of getting into the first Test. To be selected in the position I am for the final Test is a pretty special moment for me personally but obviously there's still a job to do."

The Lions side shows six changes from the one that lost by a point last Saturday with a record 10 Welsh players featuring in the starting XV. Mike Phillips returns at half-back to partner Jonathan Sexton with the other four changes coming in the pack. Hooker Richard Hibbard starts a Lions Test for the first time while Alex Corbisiero returns to the front-row at loose-head after sitting out last Saturday's game through injury.

Gatland has also opted to drop Jamie Heaslip at No.8 with Toby Faletau starting while Sean O'Brien replaces the injured Warburton at openside.

On the bench, Manu Tuilagi is named while Justin Tipuric will provide the back-row cover. There is no place for Ben Youngs who started the second Test with Conor Murray the back-up scrum-half while Richie Gray replaces Tom Croft who is left out of the matchday squad.

"It all comes down to Saturday," Gatland said. "Winner takes all. We know we can leave nothing in the tank and that only a complete performance will get us across the line. Picking this team was not easy and ultimately with several players available after recovering from injury the head overruled the heart in many selection decisions.

"It has been a challenging tour and we have had our fair share of injuries but we always knew that would be the case. Brian O'Driscoll is a great player and has had a wonderful career but for the final Test in Sydney we just felt Jamie Roberts' presence offered us something more.

"Mike Phillips and Alex Corbisiero were first Test selections and would probably have played in the 2nd Test if not for injury. Richard Hibbard, Toby Faletau and Sean O'Brien have also earned their starting places."

Lions: Leigh Halfpenny, Tommy Bowe, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Jonny Sexton, Mike Phillips; Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Sean O'Brien, Toby Faletau

Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Richie Gray, Justin Tipuric, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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