Sean O'Brien critical of Lions coaching, feels All Blacks should have been 'comfortably' beaten
Sean O'Brien was not on the pitch at the end of the Third Test between the British & Irish Lions and New Zealand. One feels that, had he been, he would have piped up about playing on until there was a bloody winner.
Along with hearing the phrase 'like kissing your sister' far, far, far too much, the end of the 2017 Lions Test Series brought about a sense of what could have been. The Lions and All Blacks shared the trophy but rugby missed a chance to reach beyond boundaries by settling an enthralling series out on the pitch.
O'Brien played the first half of that match but a thumping, legal clear-out by Jerome Kaino saw him sit out the remainder. "You got me good," O'Brien told him after the match.
A little over two months on from that series and O'Brien is still a week or so off his Leinster comeback [it should be against Edinburgh on September 29]. Most rugby fans are coming around to the new season but O'Brien still has some thoughts on the Lions Tour that he is happy to share.
"I was happy with how I performed, personally," O'Brien tells SportsJOE.
"Looking back now, it was really disappointing that we didn't win the tour. We got a few little things right and a few things went our way but if the structure of our tour was a little better, I think we would have been in a better place.
"That's hearsay now but, when you look back as a player, you're always wanting a bit more and you're a bit greedy. Overall, I'm pleased. I don't think people gave us much of a chance going over there so to get a draw was something but, in the back of my mind, I think we should have won it."
Pressed further on an opportunity missed, O'Brien tells Oisín Langan of Newstalk:
"I'd be pretty critical of it, to be honest, because we should the tour and won it comfortably enough. I think there's a lot of learnings to take from the tour, in terms of the coaching set-up, as well, and from a players point of view and how we dealt with things."
He added, "Not to be negative about it - it was a great tour and everything - but at the end of the day, with the squad we had, we probably should have beat them. 100%.
"There's the best players in the world on a Lions Tour. I know you are playing the best team in the world but with the quality and strength in depth we had, we probably should have won the tour. It wasn't down to fatigue. It was probably management a bit, in terms of how our weeks went."
The Leinster and Ireland flanker believes Warren Gatland and many of his coaching team were over-anxious before the First and Third Tests, and loaded up on extra sessions and tactical information in the crucial days leading up to both games, which the Lions lost and drew [either side of their Second Test victory].
With so many experienced pros in the 2017 Lions squad, O'Brien was of a mind that a 'less is more' approach may have been the wiser option. He insists that this is not cribbing in retrospect and says senior players did air their views to the coaching staff in New Zealand. He tells Langan:
"They were brought up at the time. On the first week [of the First Test], I probably said something. We had a triple [session] day that day. Lads' legs were heavy on the Thursday and we were playing the All Blacks on Saturday.
"There was probably no need for that but it's just the way it was managed. We had said it, at the time, and they pulled back a bit. But it's just about getting that fine balance between players and coaches and making sure the group is ready to rock."
That Second Test victory in Wellington marked the first time in eight Tests O'Brien had managed to get one over the All Blacks. Having had the world champions in trouble, there is a tinge of regret about a series they could have been immortalised from by winning it outright.
"There's often times you think about that but that's the way it goes," O'Brien remarks as he heads off to talk to the print media.
It sounded as if he was trying to convince himself it was time to move on.