Warren Gatland has named Brian O’Driscoll as the greatest British and Irish Lions player that he has ever coached.
O’Driscoll and Gatland have a long history together, as the Kiwi coach handed the Dubliner his international debut back in 1999 when he was Ireland’s head coach, and later went on two Lions tours with the Irish centre.
Gatland was speaking on the Lions’ Inside the Bubble series and was in no doubt about who he believed was the best player he has coached on a Lions tour.
It’s arguably one of the greatest Tests in #LionsRugby history, but which Test stands out to Warren Gatland as the most intense Test he has presided over?
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 27, 2021
Warren Gatland names Brian O’Driscoll as the best Lions player he’s coached.
“The best player I’ve coached on a Lions tour is Brian O’Driscoll,” Gatland revealed.
“I saw him in 2009 [as the Lions’ forwards coach], having given him his first cap as a youngster coaching Ireland and I was unbelievably impressed with his development over eight or nine years.
“Just how mature he was, just how much he understood the game and everything. He was sensational in terms of his rugby understanding, rugby knowledge and the way he prepared.
“So he’s probably one of the best players that I’ve coached, from a Lions perspective that is.”
The controversy over dropping O’Driscoll in 2013.
Although Gatland believes O’Driscoll is the best Lions player he has ever coached, that didn’t stop the Kiwi coach from making the highly controversial call to drop the Irishman for the third test against Australia in 2013.
O’Driscoll had started in the first two tests against the Wallabies, but the Ireland veteran was left out of the Lions’ match-day squad for the final series-deciding test, which the tourists’ ultimately won 41-16.
Gatland wrote about the decision to drop O’Driscoll in his 2019 autobiography, Pride and Passion, and admitted he was shocked at the amount of vitriol directed at him leaving the Irishman out of his match-day squad.
“I had never experienced anything remotely like it and have no wish to do so a second time,” Gatland wrote.
“No one actually died as a result of that team selection but there were plenty of people in the parallel universe of social media who would have been happy to see me on Death Row.
“All this anger and bile over a game of rugby? I can’t pretend that I didn’t find it disturbing.”