Assessing Sean O'Brien's Lions comments: Is criticism justified?

Ireland back row Sean O'Brien hit the headlines on Wednesday with criticism of coaching methods used during the British & Irish Lions' tour of New Zealand.

O'Brien's belief that the drawn series was "one that got away" from the Lions is understandable given it will be 12 years before the tourists get another crack at the All Blacks.

His suggestion that Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell took ownership of the side's attacking game plan from coach Rob Howley, meanwhile, is far more explosive.

ESPN have gone through the flanker's comments to assess whether he was right to air his grievances.

"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... Less is more sometimes on a tour like that."

Unless you were there it is impossible to know exactly what the players were put through during that Thursday training session ahead of the first Test.

But coach Warren Gatland admitted following the second Test that his players had been "heavy-legged" in defeat to the All Blacks a week earlier, and revealed that their training load had been lightened as a result.

"I don't think it was just the double session," Gatland said. "It was the accumulation of three to four weeks of no days off, travel, the games, the trainings, walk-through, everything the coaches do, the meetings.

"So we consciously lightened up last week."

According to O'Brien he aired his grievances to the coaching staff and it would seem an odd time to flog a squad that had already played six matches during a gruelling tour.

O'Brien's suggestion that the coaching team were worried that players had not taken on board the information given to them over the previous month does not reflect well on either group.

"I think Rob struggled with the group in terms of his attributes of trying to get stuff across whereas Johnny and Owen drove everything the second week, for instance, in our attack and had a better plan in place."

Undoubtedly O'Brien's biggest criticism on Wednesday was reserved for attack coach Howley. Suggesting that Sexton and Farrell were forced to assume control of the Lions' attacking game plan is a fairly big accusation.

The Lions obviously rebounded from defeat in the opening Test to beat the 14-man All Blacks on July 1 and O'Brien says that they did so with a "better plan in place."

But do the stats back him up? The Lions enjoyed 38 percent possession and 37 percent territory in the first Test, while they combined for 15 clean breaks [three more than New Zealand], beat 17 defenders and were able to offload 10 times. They also won 94 percent of their own rucks.

In the second Test, the Lions had the same amount of possession and more territory (41 percent), but they made fewer clean breaks (six), beat fewer defenders (13) and did not produce as many offloads (five), all while playing against 14 men.

The Lions had their best share of possession and territory in the final Test (49 and 43 percent respectively) but made only two clean breaks, and were unable to breach the All Blacks' try line as the match ended in stalemate.

"At the end of the day I think, with the squad we had, we should have beaten them."

O'Brien's frustration at what happened in New Zealand is driven by a genuine belief that the Lions were good enough to beat the All Blacks "comfortably."

Listening to the tape of his chat with Off The Ball, it is clear that he rates the players that went on the tour highly, but were they good enough to beat the world's No. 1 team?

The Lions undoubtedly produced some thrilling rugby during the Test series -- Liam Williams' break for O'Brien's try in the first Test will be replayed until the tape wears out -- but it also true that the tourists were outplayed for long periods.

They were fortunate to beat an All Blacks side reduced to 14 men in the second Test and were a debatable refereeing call away from losing the decider. It is only natural that O'Brien can see areas that could have improved on as the Lions fell agonisingly short of a feat few thought possible.

But that should not take away from what was still a noble achievement against a side with a formidable home record.