DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish rugby fans, former players and politicians reacted with anger and bewilderment on Wednesday when they woke to the news that Brian O‘Driscoll had been dropped for the British and Irish Lions’ crucial third test against Australia.
The talismanic centre, regarded as Ireland’s greatest ever player, was tipped to captain Warren Gatland’s side for Saturday’s series decider but was instead axed for the first time in a glittering 15-year career.
Gatland, who is also the head coach of Six Nations champions Wales, replaced O‘Driscoll with Jamie Roberts, one of 10 Welshmen in the starting 15.
The decision dominated morning news shows, stoked ire on Twitter and led one former Lions great, ex-Ireland captain Keith Wood, to accuse Gatland of damaging the traditions of the touring side.
“I think he has sidestepped what the Lions is all about, which is the blending of four countries. I think it does the Lions a disservice,” Wood said of Gatland, who also picked three Irishmen and two from England to start on Saturday. Scotland’s sole representative is lock Richie Gray, who is on the bench.
“I‘m upset for the Lions and I‘m really upset for Brian ... I think Brian gets the Lions more than Warren Gatland does if I‘m brutally honest,” Wood, who was part of the last Lions team to win a test series in 1997, told Irish radio station Newstalk.
O‘Driscoll, Ireland’s record try scorer who led his country to a first Grand Slam in 61 years in 2009 and is on his fourth Lions tour, reacted gracefully to the decision.
“Obviously totally gutted at being left out for deciding Test but all efforts go into preparing the boys to see it through,” he wrote on Twitter.
Irish rugby fans were less understanding.
The hashtag #justiceforBOD, a reference to the 34-year-old’s initials and nickname, was the most popular term on Twitter in Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinnes summed up the feelings of many when he took to the social network to describe Gatland’s call as “mind boggling”.
Others described the feeling as similar to that when Ireland football captain Roy Keane walked out on the team ahead of the 2002 World Cup, a story that dominated national news for days.
But with three Irish players - Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Bowe and Sean O‘Brien - managing to make the cut in a team dominated by Welshman, some managed to see the light side.
“Big congrats to Sean O‘Brien, Tommy Bowe and Jonathan Sexton on their debut for Wales this weekend,” comedy writer Colm Tobin said on Twitter.
Editing by Peter Rutherford