Alun Wyn Jones believes Warren Gatland’s winning gamble on Brian O’Driscoll proves the Wales coach can be the man to lead the British and Irish Lions again in four years’ time.
Gatland was widely criticised after leaving Ireland centre O’Driscoll out of the squad for the series decider against Australia last Saturday, but was vindicated as the tourists roared to a 41-16 win in Sydney.
O’Driscoll is Ireland’s most successful player and the second most-capped player in rugby union history with 125 for Ireland and six for the Lions.
Prior to the win, Gatland faced the ire and bafflement of many of O’Driscoll’s compatriots, with former Ireland and Lions hooker Keith Wood describing the omission as a “massive mistake”, while New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter and former Wallaby centre Matt Giteau both expressed their surprise.
However, in the first two Tests, O’Driscoll’s presence in the Lions squad was quieter than expected and Gatland made the bold decision to leave him out of the third Test.
That move paid off in a convincing win and Wales flanker Jones, who captained the Lions in that game in the absence of O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, would not be surprised to see Gatland reprise his role in his native New Zealand in four years’ time.
He said in a column for a Sunday newspaper: “It’s funny because, before the last game, everyone was criticising him, saying that he had done the wrong thing with his selection, and now they are touting him for the next one.
“Can he do a good job? Definitely. He proved that when he gambled and it worked. I don’t know if it’s the Midas touch but whatever he does works.”
It was a second Lions tour for Jones and he insists it is far too early to look ahead to a potential hat-trick.
“There are a lot of things to take into account for four years’ time,” he added. “How I’m playing, how my body is, where I’m playing and what the situation is with family.
“I know I’ll only be 31 but a lot of water will have passed under the bridge by then. I like to look ahead but I don’t like to look that far ahead.”
Jones was at the centre of one of the early talking points of this year’s tour, when Australia captain James Horwill was cited for stamping on him in the first Test of the series.
Horwill was cleared at an initial disciplinary hearing and though the International Rugby Board appealed, the verdict was upheld and Horwill was allowed to play in Sydney.
Jones continued: “Nobody knows the intention other than James himself. I shook his hand before the game and I shook his hand afterwards. Everybody who plays the game has seen red at some point or other. I have been there myself but I have been around too long in rugby to hold grudges.”