"Didn't make sense" - Former Ireland and Lions flanker Sean O'Brien slates Wales boss Warren Gatland - Ruck

“Didn’t make sense” – Former Ireland and Lions flanker Sean O’Brien slates Wales boss Warren Gatland

Seán O’Brien has pointed fingers at Warren Gatland and his coaching team for the British & Irish Lions’ inability to secure victory in their series in New Zealand during the summer. He argues that the tourists had the potential to achieve a clean sweep of 3-0 against the All Blacks.

The Ireland and Leinster flanker, who participated in all three Tests, emphasized the Lions’ commendable performance in securing a draw despite initial skepticism.

While the Lions managed to hand New Zealand their first home defeat in 48 matches during the second Test in Wellington, O’Brien has voiced discontent with the coaching approach leading up to the first Test – which ended in a 30-15 loss – and the series finale, ultimately resulting in a 15-15 draw.

“I think I had a very good tour,” O’Brien began. “Things went well over there for me but looking back now, it was really disappointing that we didn’t win the tour. When you look back as a player, you’re always wanting a bit more and you’re a bit greedy.

“We got a few little things right and a few things went our way but if the structure of our tour was a little better, I think we would have been in a better place.

“Probably the way it was structured the coaches were doing a bit of catch-up before the first Test and the week leading into the last Test as well. They will probably take a lot of learnings from that, they will; in terms of how they structured the week for us and made sure we were as fresh as possible. But it didn’t really happen in the first week or last week.

“I think we should have won 3-0 with the players we had, we should have won the series, and, looking back, and I could be completely wrong, but if we had a little more structure during the weeks, and more of an attack game plan, as such, driven way earlier in the tour, I think we could win 3-0.”

“Johnny [Sexton] and Faz [Owen Farrell] were the ones running our attack shape,” he says. ”The coaches have a lot to answer for in terms of our attack rather than Johnny and Faz trying to drive it.

“If I was being critical of any coach it would be the fact that I think Rob struggled with the group in terms of his attributes of trying to get stuff across whereas Johnny and Owen drove everything the second week, for instance, in our attack and had a better plan in place. So I don’t know if it was people were not buying into what he was about or whatever else. That’s the hard thing about a Lions tour as well; getting everyone to listen to a coach that was probably set in his ways.

“They [the Lions] have to learn from it going forward. Whether I am there or not in four years is a different story. Coaching-wise they need to make sure they have the best coaches in the best positions, attack, defence, forwards, whatever it may be on a Lions tour.”

Gatland’s response:

The former Lions boss said he contacted O’Brien to talk about the player’s comments, but did not get a return call. 

“The coaches and the backroom staff worked their absolute bollocks off on the tour and to have someone come out and make a comment like that, it really did hurt,” Gatland said.

“It took a bit of the gloss off. My first reaction was that if he wanted to say something, there was a forum for that.

“No one had ever taken on a tour of that magnitude or difficulty. Did we learn as coaches from that experience? Would we have done some things differently? Of course.

“That’s part of the experience. All the pressure is on the head coach. You are under scrutiny from the four home nations about selection, performance and tactics. I don’t feel there is anywhere near the same pressure on players as there is on coaches.”

Gatland continued: “I left a message to say I was disappointed. He texted me three weeks later to say that he had just cleared his voicemail. And that he had been taken out context. I texted to say he could call me at any time but I’ve not heard back from him.

“When you take 41 players on tour, you are not going to keep everyone happy. I understand there are going to be disappointed players, but Sean had a fantastic tour and played exceptionally well. There’s no doubt about his contribution on the playing field. In the changing room, as a voice, from a leadership point of view, he contributed extremely well. It’s only fair to acknowledge that, but it was disappointing he highlighted one person [Howley].

“Sean spoke about Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell taking responsibility, which is strange because as a coach you want to empower your most experienced players to take ownership and responsibility. When you coach a young side you give them a lot of direction, a lot of information. The more experience they get, the more you pull back and allow them to take ownership. Ironically, I see that as a compliment: it’s what good coaching is about.”

Warren Gatland’s Dream Lions XV

15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)

14. Tommy Bowe (Ireland) 

13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)

Garland wrote: “This was the most difficult selection for many obvious reasons. I know a lot of people will ask why I did not select Brian O’Driscoll here. If you were to pick a Lions team that included the tours when he was at his best, 2001 and 2005, then he would come into that calculation because he was an unbelievable player.

“But when I was head coach in 2013, his best days were behind him whereas Jonathan Davies was in his prime. He played in the series winning Test in 2013 and went on to become player of the series on the 2017 tour against the world champions New Zealand.”

12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)

11. George North (Wales)