Brian O'Driscoll Dropped from Lions: The Right Move but Will It Matter?

Jeff Hull@@HullatHomeContributor IIIJuly 3, 2013

Brian O'Driscoll will march with the Lions no more.
Brian O'Driscoll will march with the Lions no more.David Rogers/Getty Images

Brian O'Driscoll is one of the greatest rugby players of his generation. However, his presence was unlikely to help the Lions to the Test series victory they so desperately need.

Perhaps nothing can.

O'Driscoll was once the terror of European clubs and international back lines across the globe, including in the Southern Hemisphere. He was part of a long run of powerful Irish teams that dominated Northern Hemisphere rugby and put fear into the hearts of Southern Hemisphere rivals.

He was, in his prime, perhaps the greatest centre to ever play the game.

Those days are behind him, however, and now that he has been dropped from the final British and Irish Lions Test versus Australia, one wonders if fans will have to look to film footage of his glory days to see their legendary hero on the pitch again.

Some like Bleacher Report's own Rob Gill have been quick to pounce on Wales and Lions head coach Warren Gatland for his choice. However, there is a note of raw emotion to many such arguments.

Mr. Gill's contentions regarding the traditions of Lions rugby betray a misunderstanding of the very forces that have forced Coach Gatland's hand.

The Lions tour is supposed to be about four nations coming together as one—the best of four nations taking on the rugby powerhouses every four years, playing attractive, winning rugby. For 125 years, the odd political decision notwithstanding, it has largely met that criteria. 

Mr. Gill is not alone in his feelings on the subject. Many in the British and Irish press are currently shouting themselves hoarse with rage, but there are sound reasons for this selection, both historical and tactical.

For starters, let's have a look at the notion that the Lions are "the best of four nations taking on the rugby powerhouses every four years, playing attractive, winning rugby."

First off, we'll try winning.

The Lions are indeed supposed to be the very best of the four British and Irish rugby nations. However they have won only a single international Test series since 1993 and none since 1997. As O'Driscoll himself said in the post-match interview included below, had it not been for a slip by Australia's kicker, Kurtley Beale, in the first match, the Lions would have lost. The 2013 tour would have been added to the near astonishing record of Test series defeats the Lions have endured in recent decades. 

As I argued in late April, such a dismal record puts into question the entire idea of the Lions as an elite representative team and risks their legacy.

The fact that the tourists have been gifted an opportunity to finally knock off one of their Southern Hemisphere rivals and restore some measure of success to the Lions brand is exactly what is motivating Gatland's decisions.

In looking at the attractiveness of their play, the Lions failed to score a single try in their second Test against Australia and lost, despite the presence of O'Driscoll alongside some of the Northern Hemisphere's biggest attacking threats.

More will be needed.

O'Driscoll's supporters, like Conor McNamara of the BBC, will point out that he made every one of his 23 tackles in that match; however, this is besides the point. The Irish legend has always been an elite level defender. It is because attacking opportunities come so rarely in these type of matches that a different presence is needed.

Further arguments from our own Rob Gill and others point out that those selected to replace O'Driscoll bring a more direct style of play, and are not known for their magical line-breaking abilities.

It may be that no such magic exists in players within a Lions group that continues to demonstrate the disturbing lack of creativity in Northern Hemisphere rugby.

When Warren Gatland inserted no less than 10 Welshmen into his starting team for one last shot at a Test series win, it was because he is hoping his Welshmen can provide, as a group, what no player– not even O'Driscoll–can provide alone. 

In the end, it may be an impossible task. Only time will tell.

What Gatland and the Lions really need to aid their cause is the Brian O'Driscoll of old–The Brian O'Driscoll that could conjure tries from thin air and demoralize the opposition with here mere presence. 

Sadly, that player is gone. 

Given the state of rugby in the Northern Hemisphere, one wonders if we will ever see his like again.

What do you think of O'Driscoll's removal from the Lions team? Use the Bleacher Report forum below to let us know your thoughts.

Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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