Australia recall Smith for vital third Lions test
Flanker retired from international rugby in 2010 after 110 appearances
Wallabies flanker George Smith before a news conference in Sydney today where he made a sensational return to test rugby. Photograph: Reuters
Flanker George Smith will make a sensational return to test rugby on Saturday after being named to start for Australia in the decisive third test against the British and Irish Lions.
Smith retired from international rugby in 2010 after making 110 appearances for Australia - including all three tests against the 2001 British Lions - and will win his 111th cap against the tourists at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
The 32-year-old’s surprise selection today sees incumbent openside Michael Hooper dropped to the bench in the only change to the starting line-up from the side that beat the Lions 16-15 in Melbourne last weekend.
Liam Gill, the third openside in the squad, misses out - a tough call on a player whose late line-out steal played a major role in Australia winning the second test last weekend.
“The decision to go with George in no way reflects any dissatisfaction with the way either Michael or Liam have played,” coach Robbie Deans said in a news release.
“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.”
Loose forward Ben McCalman is named on the bench as cover for blindside flanker and number eight in the only other addition to the squad.
Coach Robbie 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 backs went off injured with Hooper ending up playing in the centres.
Once one of the best openside flankers in the world, Smith stormed back into contention for this year’s Lions tour on the back of some brilliant performances for the ACT Brumbies.
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 the first test defeat.
“He’s class, isn’t he?” Deans added.
“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.”
5-James Horwill (captain)