Lions 2013: Phil Bennett fears 'great tour has gone to pieces'

Lions glum in second Test


ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Saturday, 6 July
11:00 BST (20:00 local)
Live text commentary on BBC Sport website, updates on BBC Radio 5 live

British and Irish Lions great Phil Bennett fears the team selected for Saturday's deciding Test against Australia has caused divisions.

Head coach Warren Gatland has picked a record 10 Welshmen to start and dropped Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll.

Bennett feels it is a bold selection but it is "win or bust" for Gatland.

"This has been a great tour, happy, players mixing with fans, everything's been lovely and... this morning it's all gone to pieces," said Bennett.

"You've got [former England and Lions coach] Sir Clive Woodward saying they've done the wrong thing, the management, taking them to a beach resort.

"You've got the Scottish journalists complaining there's no Scots in the side and now the dropping of Brian O'Driscoll, you've got a respected journalist like [BBC rugby union correspondent] Ian Robertson saying it's absolutely crazy."

Bennett, capped eight times by the Lions, was a key part of the famous 1974 side unbeaten in South Africa and captained the 1977 tour to New Zealand.

The former Wales and Llanelli fly-half admits the decision to drop O'Driscoll completely from the match-day squad of 23 caught him by surprise.

But the 64-year-old says the understanding between Welsh centres Jamie Roberts - set to play his first game on tour after injury - and Jonathan Davies could prove crucial.

"I must admit I expected changes in the side but I didn't expect O'Driscoll to be dropped," Bennett said.

"It was very unfair, on my behalf, to drop Jonathan Davies but that was what I was kind of doing saying that O'Driscoll had to be captain, because Davies has been the best centre on tour.

"Yet they've dropped O'Driscoll and the saddest fact of all is that he's not even in the 23. [England centre] Manu Tuilagi, who has hardly played on the tour, has made it on the bench in front of him and that is a huge call by Gatland.

"You pick your best team and if he thinks the best team is playing Jamie Roberts with Jonathan Davies, who know each other so very well, then so be it.

"But it's a big call to bring Roberts back, he has to come back in the side but let's hope he's 100% fit - picking Tuilagi on the bench says to me that they're having him as cover in case Jamie breaks down."

The decision by Gatland - who is also the Wales coach - to select 10 Wales players equals the record for the number of Welshmen in a Lions starting XV set in the first Test against Australia in 1950.

The record for the number of players from a single country is 12, when a dozen Englishman started for the Lions in the late 1880s, while in the modern era 11 Englishmen started the second Test win over New Zealand in 1993.

Lions won the first Test of the current tour 23-21 in Brisbane but the Wallabies squared the three-Test series by winning 16-15 in Melbourne last weekend, setting up a grand finale in Sydney on Saturday.

"I've heard it on Lions tour before, 'oh, we don't care if there's 10 Englishmen in the side, 10 Scotsmen or whatever, as long as we win the game everything's fine'," added Bennett.

"I tell you what, there's 10 Welshman in on Saturday. If we lose that game against Australia they will come round from everywhere from the other three countries and say, 'hang on, Wales haven't beaten Australia for years, why did they pick they pick so many Welshmen?'.

"So it's win or bust for Gatland on Saturday.

"You have to look at winning the Test series. We've got a captain in Alun Wyn Jones who has been the best forward on the whole tour, outstanding, closely pursued by [injured skipper] Sam Warburton.

"So I think it's a bold decision who plays, he's [Gatland] laid his cards on the table, had to bring [hooker] Richard Hibbard back in - a Welshman.

"If I'm being perfectly frank with myself and everybody else I would have looked at even bringing [lock] Ian Evans back instead of Geoff Parling, who I thought was lightweight last Saturday.

"At the end of the day, he [Gatland] will be judged on the winning or losing of the game and if we lose this match on Saturday, all the critics of the other three countries will say he put all his faith into the power game - big men, no flair, no skill, no O'Driscoll etc.

"He's on a hiding to nothing but he's very bold, but he desperately needs a win for his own reputation on Saturday."

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