George Smith to confirm legend status
July 4, 2013
George Smith looks good in gold © Getty Images
Good coaches, when under pressure, have to make smart, courageous selections. Both Warren Gatland and Robbie Deans have achieved that in pursuit of the Tom Richards Cup, by either dropping a rugby icon or bringing back a legend.
Gatland had the far more difficult task. Omitting Brian O'Driscoll, who was originally assumed to be the British & Irish Lions captain for the series-deciding Sydney Test, was an enormous call. The Lions coach also knew that the sacking of O'Driscoll would stir up an overwhelming public backlash, especially from the Irish. Nonetheless it was the right move. Forget about all the waffle about Welsh favouritism. Coaches must first and foremost pick on form, and O'Driscoll had not done enough in the Test series to warrant being persevered with. A major factor in the Wallabies leveling the series in Melbourne was the lack of drive in the Lions midfield, which instead of being spirited had degenerated into a bunch of shufflers. They never threatened the gain line, never looked like scoring a try. O'Driscoll wasn't the only culprit in a malfunctioning Lions backline, but he certainly looked well off his best last weekend.
Coaches in dire straits often go back to those who have got them out of trouble before, so no surprises the Lions Test line-up now revolves around a bevy of Welshmen including their successful centre combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. While Davies could have easily been another casualty, as he has also been a wanderer during the series, the pairing for the third Test still looks better than the second Test combination.
Deans had the far more pleasant task of telling another veteran George Smith that he could enjoy the ultimate Sydney Test farewell and the chance of emulating what he did on the same ground in 2001- achieving a series victory over the Lions. Usually when a player has not been involved in Test football for nearly four years, and been sidelined for some weeks with injury, the general consensus would be that such an inclusion is in the "funny farm" category. Not this time around - because it involves a football phenomenon, someone who is a viable contender for a Top Ten Wallabies of All Time list. Selecting Smith is a wise move.
Before Smith was sidelined with injury, he was with Scott Higginbotham the most dynamic forward among the Australian provinces in the Super Rugby tournament- with his return to the Brumbies this season instrumental in them leading the local conference. Sadly Higginbotham has missed the Lions series due to injury, and he would have made a difference. At least Smith can be part of it, and provide the Wallabies with much needed direction at the breakdow after the Lions dominated that area in Melbourne.
The Lions have suffered two staggering blows this week. Losing their captain Sam Warburton, who was the most effective player at the tackle last weekend, was a gut-wrencher. Not far behind in the agony stakes is the fact the Lions now know that they have to confront the master pilferer. Smith's involvement will have the desired effect of motivating all those around him in the green and gold. The Wallabies are certainly hoping that will be the case with their No.8 Wycliff Palu, who is yet to make an impact in this Test series.
The only downside to Smith's selection is that Liam Gill loses his place on the bench- a tough decision especially after his valiant snatch and grab at the back of the Lions lineout in the final minutes of the Melbourne Test was so crucial in ensuring the series was leveled.
The Wallabies through a six forwards-two backs reserves contingent have made it clear where they think the game will be won. But that could backfire if like the first Test the Wallabies suffer overwhelming injuries or problems out wide. Their backline backup of just Nick Phipps and Jesse Mogg looks very, very flimsy. Maybe George Smith could end up in the centres. Don't laugh. It has happened before.
Third Test Tip: Wallabies by 5.
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September