Smith unleashed on B&I Lions
Smith unleashed on B&I LionsSHARE
Seasoned flank George Smith has been recalled to the Australian team for the deciding Test against the British and Irish Lions in Sydney on Saturday.
His recall comes four years after his last international appearance.
In gaining selection the 32-year-old Smith returns for a possible 'farewell' Test appearance on Australian soil, after previously having 'signed off' during the 33-12 win over Wales in Cardiff at the end of the 2009 year-end tour.
He comes in for Michael Hooper in the only change to the starting team which levelled the three-match series with a 16-15 win over the Lions in Melbourne last weekend.
With 110 appearances, the forward is Australia's third-most capped player behind his former Brumbies and Wallabies captain George Gregan, who clocked up 139 Tests, and Nathan Sharpe with 116 caps.
Smith's opportunity to play again for the Wallabies came when he was loaned to the Brumbies team from Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath this season and impressed Wallabies coach Robbie Deans enough to earn a recall to the international stage.
"He's class, isn't he?" Deans said.
"To have achieved what George has throughout his career and return to play at the highest level after such a long break is a testament to the quality of the man, both as a person and as a player."
Smith's selection comes after the tourists' controversial axing of revered Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll – their sole survivor from the last 2001 Australian series – from their side for Saturday's third Test at the Sydney Olympic stadium.
O'Driscoll was expected to lead the Lions in the absence of injured tour leader Sam Warburton, but the Lions will now be captained by Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones.
Hooper is relegated to the bench to make way for Smith after starting in the first two Tests of the series, while last year's Australia Under-20 captain, flank Liam Gill, is out after playing off the bench in the earlier Tests.
"The decision to go with George in no way reflects any dissatisfaction with the way either Michael or Liam have played," Deans said.
"But it has been a tough series – the first two games have been rugged, especially at the breakdown, and we feel that the combination of experience and fresh legs that George brings is the right way to go for this week.
"His expertise in the contact zone, where timing, judgment and physicality is everything, is going to be critical.
"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."
Smith becomes the fourth Wallaby – alongside Tony Miller, John Thornett and Peter Johnson – to have played the Lions across two separate tours, with his predecessors all having featured against the Lions in 1959 and 1967.
Rugged Western Force loose forward Ben McCalman was brought into the replacements at the expense of centre Rob Horne, leaving Australia with a six forwards and just two backs for what is expected to be another torrid 80-minute battle with the Lions.
Scrumhalf Nick Phipps and uncapped fullback Jesse Mogg are Australia's only backline options on the bench.
Looking ahead to the game, the Qantas Wallabies coach says having a series decider in front of a capacity crowd, in excess of 80,000, at ANZ Stadium represents an "appropriate end" to a series that has, to date, lived up to its billing.
"The fact that this will be the third sell-out crowd, in what is such a competitive Australian sporting market, says it all," Deans noted.
With the third Test concluding the season for the Lions players, Deans says he expects the touring players to "empty their tanks".
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Michael Hooper, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Jesse Mogg.
Date: Saturday July 6
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.00 AEST (10.00 GMT, 11.00 UK & Ireland time)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Craig Joubert (South Africa)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)