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Wallabies named for 2013 Lions decider

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rugby.com.au and James Mortimer     04 Jul 2013     Getty Images

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)