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By Qantas Wallabies Media Unit
The selection of Australia’s third highest capped player, four years after his most recent Test appearance, highlights the Qantas Wallabies side named today ahead of Saturday night’s third and series-deciding game against the British & Irish Lions in Sydney.
In gaining selection, George 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 Spring Tour.
Much has changed since then: even the Qantas Wallabies jersey is markedly different in appearance; but Smith remains among the elite in his position, having proved that since his return from Japan to back up the Brumbies in Super Rugby after injury sidelined Test flanker David Pocock.
The Brumbies have risen to the top of the Australian conference and the influence of Smith, most notably at the breakdown, has been a big factor in that, noted Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
“He’s class, isn’t he?” Deans says.
“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 became the 75th player to captain Australia when appointed to lead the Wallabies against Canada at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. He led the side on six occasions in Tests through the 2007-2009 period.
The decision to request an early release from his existing Australian Rugby Union contract in 2010, saw Smith depart for French club Toulon after that year’s Super Rugby season.
This denied him the opportunity of a farewell Test on Australian soil, which now comes 12 years after he first played the Lions, and 13 years after making his Test debut.
Celebrating his 33rd birthday on Sunday week, Smith boasts 110 previous Test appearances, six behind Nathan Sharpe, and 29 behind Australia’s most capped player, his former Brumbies team-mate George Gregan.
Australia has developed its openside depth in the absence of Smith both through the rise of Pocock, but also Michael Hooper, who drops to the bench this week after starting in each of the first two Tests of the series.
Another rising star, last year’s Australia Under-20s captain Liam Gill, comes out of the squad after having contributed from the bench previously.
“The decision to go with George in no way reflects any dis-satisfaction with the way either Michael or Liam have played,” Deans says.
“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, judgement 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.”
While Smith is the only change to last week’s starting XV, the Wallabies’ expectations of another demanding forward exchange has been reflected in the make-up of the bench, which reverts to a six-forward, two-back split.
Abrasive Wester Force loose forward Ben McCalman joins, positioning him to appear in his first Test since Australia beat Wales in Cardiff at the end of 2011.
Like James Horwill and James O’Connor, who made their Test returns in the opening game of this series; McCalman missed all of last year’s Test programme due to injury.
Rob Horne is the unlucky back to make way, with Nick Phipps and uncapped fullback Jesse Mogg providing the run on options.
Deans says the utility value within the starting backline provides adequate positional cover for all but the most “extreme” of circumstance.
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 notes.
With the third Test concluding the season for the Lions players, Deans says he expects the touring players to “empty their tanks”.
To that end, he issued a rallying call to the Australian public to back the Wallabies.
“Both sets of fans have been fantastic, the atmosphere in ground amazing, but with 80,000 seats available this weekend; this is our chance to drown out the sea of red.
“I encourage all Australians – both those going to the game and those watching it around the country – to get into gold and get behind your Wallabies.
“It really does make a massive difference to the players. You’ve seen how closely matched the two teams are: that support could be the point of difference that gets the Wallabies over the line.”
The Qantas Wallabies team to play the British & Irish Lions in the third and deciding Tom Richards Cup Test on Saturday July 6 at ANZ Stadium, Sydney (kick-off: 8.05pm AEST, 11.05am UKST) is:
15. Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
14. Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
12. Christian Leali’ifano (Brumbies)
11. Joe Tomane (Brumbies)
10. James O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels)
9. Will Genia (Queensland Reds)
8. Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs)
7. George Smith (Brumbies)
6. Ben Mowen (Brumbies)
5. James Horwill (Queensland Reds, captain)
4. Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
Run on Reserves:
16. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
18. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
19. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
20. Ben McCalman (Western Force)
21. Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs)
22. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
23. Jesse Mogg (Brumbies)
Australia v British & Irish Lions – Historical Notes
Australia v British & Irish Lions in Sydney
1899: Australia 13, British & Irish Lions 3
1899: British & Irish Lions 11, Australia 0
1899: British & Irish Lions 11, Australia 10
1899: British & Irish Lions 13, Australia 0
1904: British & Irish Lions 17, Australia 0
1904: British & Irish Lions 16, Australia 0
1930: Australia 6, British & Irish Lions 5
1950: British & Irish Lions 24, Australia 3
1959: British & Irish Lions 24, Australia 3
1966: British & Irish Lions 11, Australia 8
1989: Australia 30, British & Irish Lions 12
1989: British & Irish Lions 19, Australia 18
2001: Australia 29, British & Irish Lions 23
Referee Notes – Romain Poite (France)
ANZ Stadium – Background Notes
Previous Qantas Wallabies Tests at ANZ Stadium
1999: Australia 22, England 15
1999: Australia 28, New Zealand 7
2000: New Zealand 39, Australia 35
2000: Australia 26, South Africa 6
2001: Australia 29, British & Irish Lions 23
2001: Australia 29, New Zealand 26
2002: Australia 31, France 25
2002: Australia 16, New Zealand 14
2003: Australia 30, Wales 10
2003: New Zealand 50, Australia 21
2003: Australia 24, Argentina 8 (RWC)
2003: Australia 22, New Zealand 10 (RWC semi-final)
2003: England 20, Australia 17 (aet – RWC Final)
2004: Australia 34, Scotland 13
2004: Australia 23, New Zealand 18
2005: Australia 74, Samoa 7
2005: Australia 30, South Africa 12
2005: New Zealand 30, Australia 13
2006: Australia 34, England 3
2006: Australia 20, South Africa 18
2007: Australia 29, Wales 23
2007: Australia 25, South Africa 17
2008: Australia 34, France 13
2008: Australia 34, New Zealand 19
2009: Australia 22, France 6
2009: New Zealand 19, Australia 18
2010: England 21, Australia 20
2010: New Zealand 23, Australia 22
2011: Samoa 32, Australia 23
2011: Australia 39, South Africa 20
2012: New Zealand 27, Australia 19
Other Internationals (RWC 2003) at ANZ Stadium
2003: France 51, Scotland 10
2003: New Zealand 53, Wales 37
2003: England 24, France 7 (Semi-final)
2003: New Zealand 40, France 13 (Bronze Final)