Paul O’Connell has become the latest Irish star to admit he felt dropping Brian O’Driscoll for the final Lions Test was the wrong decision.
Munster lock O’Connell, who missed the final two Tests with a broken arm, said he was “shocked and disappointed” that O’Driscoll was dropped for the first time in his international career for the decisive clash with Australia in Sydney.
The decision prompted a massive backlash in Ireland in particular, with Keith Wood and Willie John McBride lamenting the decision to deny the 34-year-old a Lions swansong.
Writing in the Irish Examiner, O’Driscoll’s close friend and former Ireland colleague Ronan O’Gara described the decision as “the greatest kick in the bollix he could ever get. Horrific”, while Lions fly-half Jonny Sexton reckoned “it felt almost like I’d been dropped myself”.
The Lions ultimately won 41-16 to clinch a first series win in 16 years, mostly due to a crushing forward effort, although Jonathan Davies had a fine game in the No 13 shirt.
Lions coach Warren Gatland admitted afterwards the vitriol that came his way in the wake of the decision had soured the victory for him, but O’Connell said he still felt it was the wrong call.
“I was shocked and disappointed,” O’Connell told The Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM. “After playing so long with him, you end up being a bit of a fan. I wouldn’t say it took the gloss off it a little bit for me… but it probably did.
“I thought Brian was playing really well. If you look at the first two Tests there wasn’t a whole lot of quality ball given to the back line. Apart from George North, who had a ball kicked down his throat and created an unbelievable try, there weren’t any backs that stood out.
“So it’s hard to fathom the logic behind the decision, certainly from my point of view, but obviously I’d be biased.”
O’Connell added that it jarred him to see a fit O’Driscoll wearing a suit on match day.
“It’s a shame he wasn’t out there. Even going on the bus with him; I was injured and there were other guys resigned to the fact that they weren’t on the team — it just felt wrong that he was on the bus with the non-playing [squad] not in the 23. It just felt wrong.”
Responding to a suggestion that O’Driscoll ‘wouldn’t have let anyone down’, O’Connell said: “It wouldn’t even be a case of letting anyone down; Brian would have been one of the best players on the pitch. That’s just the way it is.”
Although he suffered yet more injury woe, O’Connell said he “felt great” on tour after long-standing problems in recent years that had put his tour in doubt until a triumphant return for Munster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Wasps.
“The tour was so good and they managed training so well. We trained for short periods of time and it was just made for old fellas, even though it was a very young group,” he said.
“I’d love to play until the next World Cup and see what happens after that.”
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