British and Irish Lions 2013: Warren Gatland adds pressure to 'Welsh Lions' by leaving out Brian O'Driscoll for decisive third Test against Australia
A record-equalling 10 Welshman will start for the Lions in Sydney, but history suggests luck is not on their side
Warren Gatland certainly sprung a surprise this morning with the omission of British and Irish Lions stalwart Brian O’Driscoll in his starting line-up to face Australia in the deciding third Test on Saturday.
It is the first time O’Driscoll will miss a Lions Test match having not been injured, after he missed the majority of the 2005 series following a controversial spear tackle by Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu, and also the final Test in 2009 against South Africa.
Gatland has instead chosen to reunite Wales duo Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in the centre, and the two make up a fifth of the Welsh contingent named in the side – a record-equalling 10 players from the land of the Red Dragon will start in Sydney – levelling the 1950 record when the same number of Welshmen were named by coach Leslie Osborne.
The record of players from the same country stands at 13, when an English dominated XV were selected back in 1888 on the tour of New Zealand and Australia.
Having seen the claims of the ‘Welsh Lions’ re-emerge having surfaced originally when he announced his squad selection, Gatland has decided to go back to his tried-and-tested players that he coaches as Wales boss.
It has been noted though that Wales’ record against Australia isn’t particularly good. In fact, it’s awful. They have beaten the Wallabies just once in the last 13 matches, with the sole victory coming at the Millennium Stadium in 2008.
In a Test series that has seen the two games so far decided by a cumulative total of just 3 points, it’s also worth mentioning that Wales have lost by three points of less in four of their last six meetings with the Aussies. Will the addition of Alex Corbisiero, Geoff Parling, Sean O’Brien, Jonathan Sexton and Tommy Bowe negate that difference? Australia have certainly held the upper hand in recent years.
As the series heads to its conclusion, the alarming similarity for any Lions fan to the last tour Down Under in 2001 will have them no doubt nervy heading into the crunch game. Having won the first Test in Brisbane, the Lions were defeated in the second Test in Melbourne before being soundly beaten in the final decider in Sydney, with the 2013 series following suit in an uncanny fashion.
Gatland criticised then-coach Graham Henry's decision to take a number of Welsh players - who he also coached at the time like Gatland - admitting that some of them probably shouldn't have been there.
"Part of the problem in 2001 - and I think it would be Graham's criticism of 2001 - was there were probably too many Welsh players selected," Gatland said in November last year.
"Some of them weren't probably good enough to go on the tour in the first place."
Will Gatland’s bold decision backfire, or will he take the credit for the first series victory in 16 years? For his sake, he better hope it’s the latter.
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