Current Ireland stars Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll have spoken of their frustration at being dropped for the final British and Irish Lions Test against Australia, with the Irish captain claiming he was “p***** off” with coach Warren Gatland while O’Driscoll admitted he is still “resentful” towards the Wales boss.
Both players featured in the first two Tests – the 23-21 victory in Brisbane and the 16-15 defeat in Melbourne – but were replaced for the decisive third Test in Sydney by Toby Faletau and Jonathan Davies respectfully.
Davies has played alongside O’Driscoll in the opening two matches, but the return of fit again Jamie Roberts saw Davies shift to outside centre, meaning O’Driscoll was left out of the 23-man squad all together.
The decision to drop O’Driscoll caused outrage in the northern hemisphere, particularly in his home country, but Gatland’s decision appeared vindicated when the Lions recorded a record victory over Australia to win the Test series 2-1.
"Do I resent him (Gatland)? Yeah, there's resentment of course," O’Driscoll told Sky Sports earlier today. "Is he on the Christmas card list – unlikely.
"When you're left with disappointment that way, you can't but feel a little bit of resentment you know."
Heaslip also recalled the celebrations following the victory and how he felt taking part in them having missed out on the third Test side.
"I very much felt like a third wheel, to be honest," Heaslip told the Irish Independent. "I'll look back on it one day and say, 'You know what, I played in two out of three of those Tests,' but at the time I didn't want to be there.
"I remember walking around and I kept my distance from the lads celebrating. I wasn't really getting into any photos or anything like that.
"John Feehan (CEO of the Lions) came over to me and said, 'You gotta smile, you're part of this, it's not just a one-day thing.' I think John was feeling for me a bit and he did his best to pick my spirits up. But it was a very tough moment.
"When I came home everybody was like, 'Well done on the Lions tour – but isn't it terrible about Brian?' I was like, 'Yeah, I feel for the guy.'
"Brian is on a different level to everybody else in terms of public affection in Ireland. He's like royalty, so I wasn't surprised at the reaction.
"We trained after the squad was announced on the Wednesday morning and that was my last session. I didn't have to go to any meetings. I pulled myself back.
"The guys not in the 23 withdrew to a degree to allow the lads to focus on what they had to do. We obviously supported the guys but we kept our distance because we needed a little head space too."
O’Driscoll and Roberts formed a formidable partnership on the 2009 Tour to South Africa, but initial plans to continue the partnership were thrown into jeopardy when Roberts picked up a hamstring injury in the warm-up victory over the New South Wales Waratahs.
Seizing his chance, Davies was very much the in-form player of Gatland’s side, but the way the New Zealander wanted his team to play depended on having a hard running 12 like Roberts in the side. Once he returned to fitness, Gatland had to pick either Davies or O’Driscoll, and having lost the second Test by the slimmest of margins, he decided to go with what he knew in naming 10 Welsh players in his starting line-up.
"People will say the decision was justified because of the results and the performance I guess,” O’Driscoll continued. “The way the team played I felt within the 13 jersey that I might have been able to do a decent job within that part of the team the way they played in that game.
"That's absolutely not taking anything away from Jonathan's performance, I thought he was pretty good that day, made some big plays at important times.
"But I guess it comes back to you backing yourself, feeling you too could have done some things that maybe others didn't do on the day."
Davies admitted to feeling like “public enemy No 1” in the wake of the criticism he and Gatland received after the team selection was announced, but he also said how O’Driscoll, who captained the 2005 Tour to New Zealand, was the first to congratulate him.
"Obviously he was gutted not to be involved but the way he trained over the next couple of days was testament to the guy,” said Davies.
"Before the test he didn't say much, he just let me get on with it. We had a couple of beers together after the test, we got on fine."