Brian O’Driscoll and Jonathan Davies have relived one of the most controversial selection calls in rugby history to mark a year until the British and Irish Lions go back on tour.
It is seven years ago tomorrow since Warren Gatland’s Lions hammered Australia in Sydney to win the 2013 series and vindicate the head coach’s decision to pick Davies ahead of legend O’Driscoll.
But the trauma of events between that seismic selection call and the match kicking off is still seared onto the souls of all three involved.
In the immediate aftermath of the Lions’ 41-16 triumph Gatland claimed he was in no mood to celebrate so “absolutely shocked” was he by the “vitriolic” abuse aimed at him.
O’Driscoll and Davies said little but have now lifted the lid on what it was like to be caught slap bang in the eye of rugby storm.
“It was something I probably used as a motivating factor,” Wales star Davies revealed. “I was like ‘I’ll prove you wrong’, I’m going to do the best I can to make sure we win the series.
“Gats asked me on the Friday, ‘how’s it been?’ I said, ‘well.. yeah.. okay..’ He was like ‘Yeah, I know exactly! Make sure we win and we’ll be okay’.”
Win the Lions did, to capture their first series since 1997, but not before social media went into meltdown over Gatland’s decision to axe O’Driscoll for the only time in his illustrious career.
It would have been the Irishman’s final Lions appearance and he was expected to be named captain in the absence of injured Sam Warburton.
“I got a tap on the shoulder and saw Gats and (attack coach) Rob Howley,” recalled O’Driscoll. “I thought this isn’t good. You don’t need two people for good news.”
The midfield maestro remembers well his own emotions but only now, as part of a new BT Sport series, Lions Call , has he discovered what it was like for Davies.
“I thought it would go pretty wild, the reaction back home and I expected it – geared myself up for it,” Davies told O’Driscoll.
“I didn’t expect to be selected. Initially that was the shock. I remember getting on the bus and telling myself ‘right, you’ve got to knuckle down this week, even more so’.
“To be fair to you, you walked past me on the bus, shook my hand and congratulated me. After that it was probably more the social media stuff. The little circus and stuff.
“You’re get tweeted stuff and you’re just like ‘wow’. I took it with a pinch of salt. I remember speaking to my brother on FaceTime. He was laughing at it, reading my tweets back to me. I was like ‘I’ve already read them, I don’t need this any more!’”
Davies would later admit that his phone had not stopped and joke that even his parents made him walk in front of them as “they didn't want to be seen with me!”
He added: “I think Warren was public enemy No 1 and I was public enemy No 2’.”
But the selection paid off. The Lions roared to glory. The end justified the means.
With one year until the British & Irish Lions tour South Africa in 2021, watch BT Sport's new series ‘Lions Call’ with Brian O’Driscoll on the BT Sport YouTube channel youtube.com/btsport
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