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Wallabies spring their own surprise

It is not just the Lions who have courted controversy in their selections; the Australians are at it too!

Robbie Deans has dropped his standout openside, Michael Hooper, to the bench in favour of the returning veteran George Smith.

Smith is undoubtedly a legend of the game and with 110 caps to his name, including a series win against the Lions in 2001, his experience could be a key element for an Australian side that despite its qualities still relies heavily on the leadership of James Horwill.

There will be concerns though from the Australian camp, Hooper has been in good from and his speed both across the ground and over the ball have been key components in Australia’s game.

Smith has also been injured for a few weeks now and while Deans has assured the Wallaby public that Smith is fit, the suspicion is that it must be touch and go, and in such a key position that could be key.

However Smith has been in incredible form for the Brumbies this season, indeed so good were they that they forced the ARU to extend his loan period from Suntory in Japan so that he could be available for this Lions series (the ARU have a policy of only selecting players based in Australia).

He is a solid leader and is supreme over the ball, whilst his power at the back of the maul and centre-like handling skills make him one of the greatest flankers ever to wear the gold shirt, probably the very best.

Three years without international rugby is a long time though and it can be expected that the Lions will look to test out his stamina and physicality early on, one would expect that he will be able to cope more than admirably but time spent away from the international arena can hinder you more than you think, just ask Lawrence Dallaglio.

Elsewhere the Wallabies remain unchanged, reflecting Deans’, and the wider rugby world’s, belief that they were the dominant side last weekend.

Interestingly though Deans has made changes on the bench where he has opted for a 6/2 forwards/backs split, bringing in Western Force back rower ben McCalman for centre Rob Horne, Liam Gill also drops out with Hooper dropping to the bench.

The selection of six forwards on the bench only goes to further highlight what Warren Gatland’s Lions selection suggested; that the Lions are going to turn this game into an almighty physical battle in the hope that Australia will wilt under the intensity and pressure.

Deans is obviously looking to be able to offset that by being able to replace 75% of his forward pack in the hope that he can keep his pack fresh and ready for more punishment. It is a shrewd move.

One area of concern for Australia may be Christian Leali’ifano, he had an excellent game in the second test and kicked magnificently, however with Jamie Roberts running hard and true at his channel he must banish any fears following that horrible clash in the first minute of the first test otherwise Roberts will capitalise on any hesitation.

Equally James O’Connor must be careful, it is no secret that Australia have been shielding him in defence and they will do so again but if Roberts can get a run at him in the narrow channels then it could spell carnage.

The sight of George Smith running out at Syndey once again will certainly raise the spirits of the watching Australian faithful though.

Australia XV v British & Irish Lions – 3rd Test:

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 James Horwill (captain), 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.

Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 James Slippper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Michael Hooper, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Jesse Mogg

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