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01st Nov 2023

Three Ireland stars make Warren Gatland’s All-time Lions XV, but no Brian O’Driscoll

Patrick McCarry

10 years on, here we go again!

Warren Gatland says he is passing the British & Irish Lions baton to Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, and named his All-time XV while he is at it.

Gatland was Lions head coach for the last three tours – 2013, 2017 and 2021 – and wraps up that stint with a series win, draw and defeat. After the 2021 tour to South Africa, he intimated that he could be open for a second crack at the Wallabies.

He has laid that shield down, however, as he focuses on building up a new-look Wales side after the World Cup. Stalwarts like Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar have followed Alun Wyn Jones into retirement so Wales should look much-changed when they line up in the 2024 Six Nations.

Gatland has taken the occasion of this baton-passing to name his all-time Lions XV – from his three head coach stints and 2009, when he was assistant to Ian McGeechan on that memorable tour to South Africa [the Lions lost a punishing Test Series 2-1]. In his Telegraph column, Gatland writes:

‘I have gone through my notes of each of the four tours – my first as an assistant to Sir Ian McGeechan to South Africa in 2009, then as head coach for Australia in 2013, New Zealand in 2017 and South Africa in 2021 and made what is undoubtedly the toughest selection I have ever had to make. To give it some context, I have made my selections based on a snapshot of all the players when they were at their best for the Lions when I was involved. It does not take into account what they achieved over the course of their careers but when they pulled on the red shirt.’

Gatland referred back to the 2013 decision to drop Brian O’Driscoll for the deciding Test against the Wallabies as ‘the one that attracted the most controversy’. Well, look away now Brian O’Driscoll fans, he has doubled down on that call in his All-time XV.

Warren GatlandBrian O’Driscoll of British & Irish Lions breaks the line during the tour match against the Western Force, in 2013. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images for HSBC)

Warren Gatland drops Brian O’Driscoll, again

In selecting his All-time Lions XV, Warren Gatland pored back over his notes from the 2009, 2013, 2017 and 2021 tours. “From 2009 to 2021 the game changed,” he notes, “laws changed too so that was taken into account in my decisions. So too were individual playing records for the Lions, as well as positional combinations.”

The final selection has nine Wales players, three from Ireland and three from England. There are four Irish players on the bench, three from England and Wales prop Gethin Jenkins.

While leaving Brian O’Driscoll out is the headline-grabbing call – and O’Driscoll linked up brilliantly with Jamie Roberts in the first two Tests of 2009 – Jonathan Davies was the Lions’ Player of the Series in 2017. Gatland dropped O’Driscoll for the final Test of the 2013 series and received a hefty backlash from Irish rugby fans. It was the first time in O’Driscoll’s storied rugby career that he was dropped for a big game.

The bigger calls, to us, are Tadhg Furlong and Maro Itoje not getting starts. Adam Jones and Alun Wyn Jones, two excellent Welsh competitors, edge them out for the No.3 and No.4 jerseys. Conor Murray was immense on the 2017 tour to New Zealand, but Phillips was very good in 2009 and 2013.


15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ireland)
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)
11. George North (Wales)
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9. Mike Phillips (Wales)

1. Mako Vunipola (England)
2. Jamie George (England)
3. Adam Jones (Wales)
4. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
5. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (England)
7. Sam Warburton (Wales)
8. Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

Replacements: Tom Youngs (E), Gethin Jenkins (W), Tadhg Furlong (I), Maro Itoje (E), Jamie Heaslip (I), Conor Murray (I), Owen Farrell (E), Brian O’Driscoll (I).

As for who captains this All-Time XV, Warren Gatland opted for Wales legend Sam Warburton.

“Anyone one of half a dozen players in the starting XV could captain the side but I have to go with Warburton,” he writes. “I had an incredibly tight relationship with him, and he was captain on the 2013 and 2017 tours, which you would regard as two successful Lions campaigns.”


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