It is one thing for Warren Gatland to be accused of betrayal after dropping Brian O’Driscoll from the Lions side for this weekend’s final Test with the Wallabies: a player of the Irishman’s stature will always generate extremes of support from those who have hung on his every move for a decade and a half. It is quite another to allege that the head coach has looked at selection through Welsh-tinted spectacles.
Wales do not often have 10 players in a Lions Test side: the last time they managed it was in 1950. But they have contributed nine on more than one occasion, and nobody in London, Dublin or Edinburgh worried too much when JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, John Dawes, John Bevan, Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Delme Thomas, John Taylor and Mervyn Davies were at the heart of the team that beat the All Blacks in 1971 – the one and only time the red-shirted collective have won a series in New Zealand.
Gatand may be the full-time coach of Wales, but the notion that a man raised in the rugby badlands of New Zealand –who was enough of a hardened union realist to play for the All Blacks before embarking on a successful career as a strategist and tactician in four different countries – would sacrifice his shot at glory on the altar of national favourtism is farcical.
Does anyone out there seriously believe that Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, Adam Jones and Alun Wyn Jones are not self-evidently the best players in their positions on this tour? Or that Jonathan Davies, Richard Hibbard, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau have not made out a fair and reasonable case for selection?
It is worth remembering as the wave of anti-Welsh feeling builds that when it comes to the numbers game, they do not have it all their own way in Lions years. Twenty years ago, 11 Englishmen faced the All Blacks in Wellington… and were there again in Auckland the following week.