RUGBY UNION

Veteran Smith recalled for Lions series decider

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans praises 'quality' flanker who retired in 2009, the only change in Australia team to face British and Irish Lions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 5:14am

Flanker George Smith will make a sensational return to test rugby tomorrow after being named to start for Australia in the decisive third test against the British & Irish Lions.

Smith bowed out of international rugby in 2009 after making 110 appearances for Australia - including all three tests against the 2001 British Lions - but will now win his 111th cap against the tourists at Sydney's Olympic Stadium.

Once one of the best open-side flankers in the world, Smith stormed back into contention for this year's Lions tour on the back of some brilliant recent performances for the ACT Brumbies.

He's better than when he left. He's played some remarkable Super 15 rugby. 
Robbie Deans

He looked like being ruled out by a knee injury on the eve of the initial squad announcement but a remarkably quick recovery saw him called into the squad after Australia's first test defeat.

Coach Robbie Deans said it had not been a difficult decision to make the change, which was the only one to his starting line-up from the side that beat the Lions 16-15 in the second test in Melbourne last weekend.

"Pretty straightforward really, it's not a big decision to select George," Deans told a news conference.

" He's a quality bloke aside from the game and obviously he's very experienced so he will bring a lot of composure to the group.

"He's better than when he left. He's played some remarkable rugby in Super 15 and we'll get the benefit of that experience."

The 32-year-old's surprise selection yesterday sees incumbent open-side Michael Hooper dropped to the bench and Liam Gill missing out altogether - a tough call on a player whose late line-out steal played a major role in Australia winning the second test.

Deans was keen to point out that Smith's selection in no way reflected dissatisfaction with the other two open-sides.

"Hoops has had the privilege of playing two tests against the Lions and he'll get the advantage of playing a third one as well, and his involvement might be defining," he said

"It's not about which part you owned, which piece you contribute, it's about adding value to the group."

Loose forward Ben McCalman was named on the bench as cover for blindside flanker and number eight in the only other addition to the squad.

"Ben McCalman offers us a little bit more versatility, he's a very good loose forward," Deans added.

He offers us versatility and covers a lot of positions. He's strong over the ball, has real physical presence and all those are going to be key components this week."

Deans has gambled on a 6-2 split in favour of the forwards on the bench with only backup scrumhalf Nick Phipps and uncapped fullback Jesse Mogg to cover the backline.

Even with three backs on the bench in the 23-21 first test defeat in Brisbane, the Wallabies were left shorthanded after three of their backline went off injured with Hooper ending up playing in the centres.

Deans said his bench had everything he needed and dismissed concerns that centre Adam Ashley-Cooper was carrying an injury.

"He's great. He's 100 per cent," he said.

"Every decision you make is a gamble. We believe it offers us what we need in this game."

Smith said his recall for the deciding test was the "ultimate", adding that this would definitely be his final match in the gold jersey.

"This just caps it off," he said. "I retired in 2009 in Wales and played away from home with not too many friends and family there watching.

"This gives me the opportunity to play in front of them and to play in front of an Australian crowd on my home soil.

"That will be fitting for my career to look back on and say, I've finished on a great occasion, a big moment."