Shane Byrne said the Lions lacked leadership in the aftermath of Brian O’Driscoll’s injury in the first test of the 2005 tour.
O’Driscoll dislocated his shoulder just a minute into the first Lions test after a tandem spear tackle from All Blacks Tana Umaga and Keven Mealumu, ending the tour in which he was named captain.
Byrne, who toured with Lions in 2005 and played in that test, said the Lions attempted to regroup, but a lack of leadership meant the game, and eventually, the series, became out of their control.
Speaking on Off The Ball, Byrne said, "It had a huge ripple effect throughout the team; it was very disjointing. Brian was the peak of his powers."
Byrne continued, "They took control of the game, and we just couldn’t claw it back. There was no one really that stood up as a leader and said, ‘look, guys, this is what we really do.'"
Byrne, who went on to play the third Lions test, believes that Umaga and Mealamu did not intend to injure O’Driscoll, but says there was no doubt that the pair should have received repercussions.
“It wasn’t malicious in that instance; they didn’t say ‘right, at this moment we’re going to pick him up and do this’.
“What was a shame was what happened afterwards; the power of New Zealand was demonstrated throughout world rugby. The guys should’ve been suspended; there was no doubt about it.
“Ok, the rules are different then as to now; there would’ve been no debate now. The fact is, what happened was foul play. They should’ve been suspended. For however long, it didn’t matter.”
Byrne added that as the tests slipped away from the Lions, divisions amongst the squad grew as a result.
“Unfortunately, it brought the battens down on the 2005 Lions side even more. That was a mistake, too; we should’ve talked about it a lot more.”
Byrne concluded that rifts amongst countries and players rooming alone were to the detriment of the Lions' morale, saying, “It didn’t help the atmosphere.
“When I heard one of the coaches ring back to England for advice on lineouts, I was just like ‘that is ridiculous’, people just reverted back to type.”
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