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British & Irish Lions
McBride slams decision to axe O'Driscoll
ESPN Staff
July 4, 2013
Willie John McBride contests a line-out against South Africa in 1974
Willie John McBride is the most-capped Lions player of all-time with 17 Test appearances © Getty Images
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British & Irish Lions legend Willie John McBride has spoken of his shock at Brian O'Driscoll's axing for the series-deciding clash with Australia in Sydney on Saturday night.

McBride, the most-capped Lions player of all-time with 17 Test appearances, has added his voice to those that have questioned Lions coach Warren Gatland's decision to drop O'Driscoll from the side for the ANZ Stadium clash "for rugby reasons" with the veteran centre not even handed a place on the bench.

"I was absolutely gutted," McBride told the BBC. "The first thing that came into my mind was that Robbie Deans, the Australian coach, must be laughing all the way. The Australian media and others, Eddie Jones the previous Australian coach, have convinced them to drop O'Driscoll, which I find amazing."

He added: "He was the guy I would have tipped as captain of the tour. He has been a big influence so far. You live and die by the team you pick and we will see what Saturday brings. Brian O'Driscoll has been the greatest player we have ever produced in Ireland and I still think he is a major influence in any team."

His sentiments were echoed by former Ireland and Lions fly-half Ollie Campbell. "I'm shocked," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "I didn't see that coming at all. Quite the opposite, in fact; not only did I think he would be named in the side to play but that he would captain the team as well. Without Sam Warburton and Paul O'Connell, in current terminology, it was a no-brainer..

"It's huge. In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's probably the biggest single selection decision in the history of the Lions. On the Richter Scale of Lions Test selections this is right up there. I think this is a decision that will be talked about and discussed for years and decades to come."

Former England captain Will Carling, who toured with the Lions in 1993, also believe that Gatland has got it wrong. "My jaw almost hit the floor when I heard the news," he told The Sun. "Gatland will be hung out to dry if he gets this one wrong and I firmly believe he has made the wrong call.

"There is just no logic to his decision. I would never pick a team on sentiment but O'Driscoll would still be in my team on merit. Okay, he hasn't set the world alight in this Test series but in make-or-break games like this you need players of proven world class. O'Driscoll ticks all the boxes. And because of that I'd have given him the captaincy."

However, Gatland found support from former England and Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward. "A head coach cannot afford to be sentimental," said Woodward, who appointed O'Driscoll as his Lions captain in 2005. "Dropping Brian O'Driscoll is the right decision based on his form and the way the Lions need to play to win this series.

Writing in The Daily Mail, he added: "I agree with dropping O'Driscoll from the team, but he should not have been left out of the match-day squad. I would much rather have the 125 caps and game-changing intelligence of O'Driscoll to call upon in the final 20 minutes of a must-win Test than the inexperience of Manu Tuilagi.

"I admire Warren Gatland for making this call. When you are under pressure as a coach you go back to what you know, and for Gatland that means the Welsh power game. But I hope his choices on the bench do not come back to haunt him as there is a lack of real impact players.

"With the exception of leaving out Alex Cuthbert - the only decision I would seriously question - the head coach has named the most intimidating line-up at his disposal. Not the most skilful - and not necessarily the best - but certainly the most powerful."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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