Smith to calm panic on the streets of Sydney
Whilst Warren Gatland shunned his most experienced player for the biggest game of his coaching life, Robbie Deans has turned to 110-Test stalwart George Smith to help the Aussies complete a remarkable series turnaround in Sydney.
Since retiring from international rugby three years ago, the openside flanker had been plying his trade in Japan until an emergency call from his injury-ravaged former club, ACT Brumbies, brought him back to the Super XV competition.
And after recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for the first two Tests, the 32-year-old is set to pull on the green and gold jersey for the first time in almost four years, ahead of Michael Hooper and Sam Gill, who drop to the bench and out of the squad respectively.
Although not as surprising as the axing of Brian O’Driscoll, there have been raised eyebrows in some quarters given the form of No. 7 incumbent Hooper who has been one of the home side’s best performers.
But Deans has cited the Brumbies man’s experience and nous at the breakdown as his motives: “His expertise in the contact zone, where timing, judgment and physicality is everything, is going to be critical.”
The prospect of Hooper coming off the bench against a tired Lions side is clearly another incentive: “Being able to call on George allows us to lighten the load on Michael while retaining the ability to inject him into what is sure to be a fast-paced and highly physical contest.”
Whilst Gatland showed no sentiment in excluding O’Driscoll, Deans makes Smith only the fourth Wallaby ever to play in two Lions Test series, but the stats suggest this decision is based on fact and not fairytale.
As well as helping Australia complete a series win against the Lions in 2001, Smith also has an impressive record against the Welsh: in seven career matches, he has been on the winning side five times and never lost in Australia.
He also won his last cap in the 33-12 victory over Wales in November 2009, when he played against five of the Lions starting XV on Saturday – Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Alun-Wyn Jones and Dan Lydiate.
Whilst Gatland has denied BOD of a final swansong, let’s hope the words of another great Irishman, Oscar Wilde, don’t come back to haunt him: “Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.”
All odds and markets are correct at the time of publication.