The British and Irish Lions dropped former captain Brian O’Driscoll for this week’s series-deciding rugby Test against Australia and picked Alun Wyn Jones to lead the combined team in Sydney.
Jones takes over as skipper from the injured Sam Warburton in a team featuring six starting changes from the Lions’ 16-15 loss in the second Test. Center Jamie Roberts and prop Alex Corbisiero return from injury, while forwards Richard Hibbard, Sean O’Brien and Toby Faletau, and scrum-half Mike Phillips, were included in a lineup featuring 10 Welshmen.
Ireland center O’Driscoll, the only survivor from the Lions’ 2001 tour of Australia, was left out of the 23-man squad for the July 6 match in Sydney as they seek their first series win in 16 years. Head coach Warren Gatland said the presence of the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Roberts “offered us something more.”
“It all comes down to Saturday,” Gatland said on the team’s website. “We know we can leave nothing in the tank. Picking this team was not easy and ultimately, with several players available after recovering from injury, the head overruled the heart in many selection decisions.”
O’Driscoll, 34, had been seen as Warburton’s likely replacement as captain, having led the Lions on seven previous occasions and taken over as skipper when Warburton got injured in Melbourne four days ago. Roberts’s inclusion at inside center moved Jonathan Davies out one position to No. 13, where O’Driscoll had started the first two Tests.
“Brian was disappointed, but he appreciated that he was spoken to before the announcement,” Gatland added in televised comments. “It’s the first time that any coach has had that decision with him in 15 years of rugby. It’s not easy for that to be the first time, but he’s still going to be very important for us for the next 72 hours.”
O’Driscoll, who was handed his Test debut by Gatland in 1999 when the New Zealander was coach of Ireland, posted on Twitter that he was “totally gutted” at being omitted.
“All efforts go into preparing the boys to see it through,” he added.
O’Brien came in for Warburton at openside flanker, while Corbisiero’s return after missing the second Test because of a calf injury pushed Mako Vunipola onto the bench.
Hibbard will start at hooker with Tom Youngs named among the replacements as Faletau was preferred at No. 8 to Jamie Heaslip, who was left out of the squad. Phillips recovered from a knee injury to take over from Ben Youngs at scrum-half.
In further changes among the replacements, flanker Justin Tipuric took O’Brien’s bench spot, lock Richie Gray came in for Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi replaced Alex Cuthbert.
The Lions, who won the June 22 opener in Brisbane 23-21, last secured a Test series triumph in South Africa in 1997.
The Wallabies, who rallied for a 2-1 victory when the teams met 12 years ago, are scheduled to announce their lineup tomorrow. Back-row forward Ben McCalman, who last played for Australia in December 2011, will be named in the matchday squad, a team spokesman said today.
McCalman, who wasn’t picked in the original 25-man roster six weeks ago and got called up as injury cover, said he’s providing backup at blind-side flanker and No. 8. He’s played across all three back-row positions for the Wallabies.
“It’s been a very enjoyable past four weeks helping the boys prepare but this week I get the opportunity to make an impact on game day,” McCalman told reporters.
While O’Driscoll missed out on selection for the decider, Wallabies flanker George Smith, who featured against the Lions in all three Tests in 2001, will start at openside flanker, newspapers including the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Smith, 32, played his most recent Test for the Wallabies more than 3 1/2 years ago. He quit international rugby in 2010, though was recalled to the national team after impressing during a loan spell with the ACT Brumbies in this year’s Super Rugby competition.
BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS: Leigh Halfpenny, Tommy Bowe, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips, Toby Faletau, Sean O’Brien, Dan Lydiate, Geoff Parling, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Richie Gray, Justin Tipuric, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi.