Rugby: Gatland's O'Driscoll snub non-issue: Schmidt

By Oliver Brown

Brian O'Driscoll has not forgotten his treatment in Australia. Photo / AP
Brian O'Driscoll has not forgotten his treatment in Australia. Photo / AP

Ireland's head coach Joe Schmidt moved yesterday to douse the simmering tensions over Brian O'Driscoll's Lions snub by Warren Gatland last summer, claiming that the controversy would not be a distraction from their pivotal confrontation with Wales tomorrow.

Despite O'Driscoll's admission that he still felt "resentment" at his omission by Wales coach Gatland for the final test in Sydney, which the Lions won 41-16, Schmidt said personal grievances ought not to overshadow a match that could yet decide the destination of the Grand Slam.

"It's an issue outside our environment," he said.

"It is something that happened over the summer, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

"They have both known each other for a long time, and I know that it's not a distraction for Brian. We can't afford any distractions."

O'Driscoll is poised to cement his distinction as Ireland's most capped player this weekend, with a 138th test appearance, one shy of Wallaby George Gregan's world record.

But the grievances over O'Driscoll's treatment in Australia at the hands of Gatland, who initially had given every public impression that he would select him for Sydney only to choose Jonathan Davies instead, still cut deep.

Recently acknowledging that Gatland was "unlikely" to be on his Christmas card list, O'Driscoll said: "When you are left with disappointment that way, you can't help but feel a little bit of resentment."

Schmidt has developed a close understanding of Gatland's working methods, ever since they were rival club coaches in New Zealand, and was anxious to ensure the strained relationship with O'Driscoll did not become a diversion.

"It's a non-issue for us, to be honest," he said.

"The match and the performance are far more important for Brian and for everyone internally. I don't have any concerns."

This is just as well, for an Ireland-Wales face-off rarely requires any extra piquancy where Gatland is concerned.

Ahead of the Grand Slam decider in Dublin in 2009, he drew fierce opprobrium across much of Ireland with his remark that "of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most".

The partisan support for O'Driscoll, in the second part of his farewell Six Nations at 35, is certain to be intense tomorrow.

Schmidt yesterday confirmed the restoration of his celebrated centre partnership with Gordon D'Arcy, who returns from illness to replace Luke Marshall at 12, but indicated that more subtle moves would be required against Wales if Ireland are to harness the momentum of their emphatic opening win over Scotland.

"It's pretty hard to pinpoint Wales' weaknesses - man for man, they are a very big side, so trying to go through them doesn't get a lot of success," explained Schmidt, who won two Heineken Cups with O'Driscoll in his three seasons with Leinster.

"We're going to have to be fairly smart about the way we play, and we have a few things we'll try to implement. We always want to keep opponents guessing ..."

Captain Paul O'Connell, as a student of Gatland with the Lions, appreciated that Wales would also be preparing an intricate approach, even with a forecast tomorrow of heavy rain and wind in Dublin.

"It always looks more direct than it is," said the lock, who like D'Arcy has been recovering from a bout of fever. "They have really well-worked moves when it might look as if they are just going up the middle, when in fact they are doing anything but."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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