- Warren Gatland confident despite “close calls” in selection
- “To play in a final Test is the biggest you can get in the game” – Jamie Roberts
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has admitted that the selection meeting ahead of the final Test against Australia was excruciatingly difficult – but maintains he has picked a strong enough side to “do the job” in Sydney at the weekend.
Gatland attracted criticism for making six changes to the team that lost 16-15 to the Wallabies in Melbourne, most of the vitriol aimed at the decision to leave out Ireland centre Brian O’Driscoll.
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However, the New Zealander was adamant that after thrashing out every option with his coaching team of Rob Howley, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, his Lions outfit will be well capable of producing a winning performance to seal the series.
“There are always close calls,” Gatland conceded. “We had a few players coming back from injury and there were toss-up decisions like there were between the first and second Tests.
“It was quite a lively meeting that we had in terms of going through with the coaches and making the final selections but we’ve come up with a side that we think is good enough to do the job on Saturday.”
Emphasising that he chose Alun-Wyn Jones as captain only after establishing the match-day 23, Gatland also stressed that the Lions would not lack for leadership despite the absence of O’Driscoll and tour skipper Sam Warburton.
Indeed, the vast experience of Jamie Roberts – who returns from a hamstring tear to take a midfield berth alongside compatriot Jonathan Davies – is certain to be a huge help as the tourists strive to secure a first series win since 1997.
“It was probably the most nerve-wracking team selection meeting I’ve had in my career because there were a lot of tight calls,” added the inside centre. “It’s up to me now to come into this backline and create some place for the wingers.
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“I’ve got a role to play on Saturday in attack and defence – it’s a position of responsibility. To have that partnership with Jon again is exciting – we played together against the Waratahs and have won a Grand Slam and a Six Nations alongside each other as well.
“To play in a final Test is the biggest you can get in the game alongside a World Cup final. It’s the ultimate in northern hemisphere rugby, certainly.”
Roberts also paid tribute to O’Driscoll and suggested that the man he teamed up with so well in 2009 would still be a hugely important presence around the camp in the lead-up to this seismic occasion.
“It just goes to show what sort of guy Brian is that he was the first to come up to me at the end of training today and ask if I wanted to do any extras.
“A thousand players have said it before me and a thousand more will say it afterwards – he’s one of the greatest players to have played the game.”