A fortnight ago, Sean O'Brien both accentuated and undermined his Lions' captaincy credentials. He showed himself to be a leader of distinct merit in publicly criticising Rob Howley and the Lions coaching staff for failing to help the players to a 3-0 series win. He showed a captain's proclivity for honesty with his comments, although the fact he has had some harsh truths for the Lions' coaches may hurt him in four years time.
He told Off The Ball:
No. I think we should have won. With the players we had, we should have won the series. If we had a little more structure during the weeks and more of an attack game plan driven [from] way earlier in the tour we could have won 3-0.
The coaches have a lot to answer for in terms of our attack. Johnny [Sexton] and Faz [Farrell] were the ones running our attack shape. If I was being critical of any coach it would be the fact that Rob [Howley] struggled with the group in terms of trying to get stuff across.
Johnny and Owen drove everything in the second [Test] week, for instance, in our attack and had a better plan in place. So I don’t know if it was that people were not buying into what he [Howley] was about. That’s the hard thing about a Lions tour as well, getting everyone to listen to a coach that was probably set in his ways.
Whether I am there or not in four years is a different story. Coaching-wise they need to make sure they have the best coaches in the best positions.
O'Brien was also critical of preparations for the first and third Test matches, citing fatigue:
The first week, we definitely over-trained on the Thursday and maybe the coaches were panicking a little bit about getting the information into us. On the first week [of the first Test], we had a triple [session] day, [the] lads’ legs were heavy on the Thursday and we were playing the All Blacks on Saturday.
We did nearly a similar thing in the last week. So maybe it’s more [from] a coaching point of view, in terms of taking lessons. Less is more sometimes on a tour like that, rather than trying to pick things up at the end of the week.
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.
Warren Gatland has sought a meeting with O'Brien to clarify his comments, and since, virtually anyone with a connection to that tour has been asked for their opinion on the matter.
The latest is Rory Best, who was in Dublin yesterday at the launch of the Champions Cup. Best played it relatively diplomatically, but he did say that O'Brien erred in singling out Howley for criticism.
Here he is speaking to Sinead Kissane of TV3:
Rory Best on Seán O'Brien's criticism of Lions tour pic.twitter.com/6QdxpSFm5V
— Sinéad Kissane (@sineadkissane) October 2, 2017
Impressive that, by Best.