Australia v British & Irish Lions, 3rd Test, Sydney, July 6
Five reasons why...will win the Sydney showdown
July 5, 2013
Lions winger George North will rekindle his rivalry with Wallabies counterpart Israel Folau on Saturday night
© Getty Images
The stage is set for a thrilling series decider in Sydney on Saturday night but will the British & Irish Lions or Australia come out on top?
Five reasons why the Lions will win...
All signs point North
In giant winger George North the Lions possess the most dangerous weapon that will be on display at the ANZ Stadium. The obscenely-talented Welshman lit up the opening Test with one of the greatest Lions tries of all-time and followed that up in the second with a mind-blowing man-handling of Wallabies rival Israel Folau. The world awaits what he will serve up for dessert with his power, pace and game-breaking ability set to provide the hosts with a sizeable headache. Even if the Wallabies are able to shackle him, the demands of such a task should provide time and space for his team-mates.
Gatland ruled by his head not his heart
Lions coach Warren Gatland made arguably the biggest call in Lions history by dropping veteran centre Brian O'Driscoll for the game and the aftershock is still reverberating around the rugby globe. It was cruel on a player who has served the Lions so well for so long but Gatland has no time for sentiment even with a player he knows so well. Gatland has said all along he will reward the in-form players and disregard status and reputation and that brave selection policy and his unstinting quest for glory should serve the Lions well when it comes to the crunch.
Welsh wonders now know how to win
Wales provide 10 players in the Lions' starting line-up with another poised to enter the fray off the bench - the highest number since the first Test of the 1950 tour in Brisbane. While some may question coach Warren Gatland's reliance on his own players, their experience will prove pivotal in the heat of battle. Wales are the form northern hemisphere side with two Six Nations Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final appearance in recent memory. They may have suffered at the hands of Australia in recent times but agonising defeats Down Under last year and in the autumn will fuel their desire and having finally tasted success over the Aussies in the first Test they have broken the hoodoo.
Halfpenny can put the boot in
Leigh Halfpenny has been in simply sensational form throughout this season - not only this tour. His right boot has provided the Lions with 93 points and he has missed just four of 36 attempts at goal - one of which hit the cross bar and another that was a long shot in more ways than one. His technique is near fault-less while his temperament and ability to deliver under pressure is equally stunning. With another close encounter expected in Sydney and penalties an ever-present feature of the modern game, Halfpenny's level of consistency will prove pivotal.
The Lions are desperate
The Lions stand on the brink of making the history one way or another. Victory will bring them their first series victory since 1997 and first against the Wallabies since 1989. But if they lose then they will have lost four series in-a-row for the first time in their illustrious history having come up short in Australia in 2001, New Zealand in 2005 and South Africa in 2009. "There's loads more to come from us and the guys are desperate to win," declared assistant coach Graham Rowntree on the eve of the game.
Five reasons why Australia will win...
Genia has no equal
Not only Will Genia the best No.9 in the world - he is rapidly closing in on the title of the most outstanding player on the planet. His vision and game-breaking ability are key elements of the Wallabies' armoury and have already torn the Lions to pieces in this series. With many predicting this series will go down to the wire, his energy and industry will also be central to Australia's hopes of running their rivals ragged. Genia will rely heavily on his forwards' ability to dominate but the Wallabies' wizard only needs a sniff of a chance to make you pay.
Deans is playing for his job
While Lions boss Warren Gatland is hoping to etch his name in history, he knows that should he win or lose he will return to Wales in the coming weeks to begin preparations for the autumn internationals. In contrast, his Wallabies counterpart Robbie Deans is fighting to keep hold of his job with increasing speculation that his time at Australia's helm maybe up - even if he was to inspire his side to glory. Victory would clearly strengthen his hand ahead of contract negotiations and further his chances of leading the Wallabies into the 2015 World Cup.
Folau is fizzing
There can be little doubt as to the most exciting talent to have emerged during a thrilling Test series. Israel Folau entered the international arena under huge pressure to deliver on his potential but has done just that with two all-action displays that showcased his superb range of skills. Only special players generate genuine excitement when they touch the ball and his pace, handling and aerial skills spell trouble for the Lions. Amazingly, the Wallabies' hopes will rest largely on a player who has only been playing the game a few months - but few play it better.
No hangover for Horwill
If many had their way then Wallabies skipper James Horwill would not be lining up at the ANZ Stadium but he was found not guilty of stamping on Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones in the first Test and a second controversial hearing triggered by the International Rugby Board found nothing wrong with that process. Far from splintering the Wallabies' challenge, the saga has only strengthened their resolve with their anger at the IRB's unprecedented actions set to fuel their desire on Saturday night. The impact of the saga was evident in Horwill's triumph-to-tears reaction to his side's second Test win but expect him to have reclaimed his fierce composure come kick off.
Smith has done his homework
Veteran flanker George Smith returns to Test rugby on Saturday having initially bowed out of international rugby four years ago. He returns a better player according to Wallabies coach Robbie Deans having become "a student of the sport" with his expertise in the crucial contact area a huge plus for the hosts. His 110 Tests certainly trump the 20-odd of his Lions rival Sean O'Brien and while his tank may not take him all the way, a more than able deputy in Michael Hooper waits in the wings.
Will Lions coach Warren Gatland or his Australia counterpart Robbie Deans be smiling come the final whistle on Saturday night? © Getty Images
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter