Australia v British & Irish Lions, Sydney, July 6
Lions question George Smith's selection
July 6, 2013
Graham Rowntree wants one last Lions push%]
The British & Irish Lions are "prepared to do anything" to beat Australia at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday night, desperate to avoid the ignominy of a fourth consecutive series defeat for the first time in 125 years.
"It's the biggest game of our lives, this, as players and coaches," Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree said on Friday, aware the tourists have never in their proud history stretching back to their first visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1888 suffered four consecutive series losses. The Lions haven't won a series since downing South Africa 2-1 in 1997, but they edged Australia 19-18 when they last faced a fourth consecutive series defeat in 1989. "This is grand final rugby. The last throw of the dice. Everything to play for. I'd say desperate is the word."
So desperate that the Lions have risked retribution from the Wallabies for questioning the selection of veteran flanker George Smith, who turns 33 next week, for his first Test in four years, and for mocking skipper James Horwill's emotional celebration after Australia's tense series-levelling win last Saturday.
"We'll see how much of a gamble it is with Smith tomorrow," Rowntree said of the veteran who has replaced Michael Hooper in the backrow and consigned reserve flanker Liam Gill to a place in the stands at ANZ Stadium despite having not played for six weeks because of a knee injury. "I'm surprised at that. He's been out for a long time. It will be interesting to see his match fitness. They've got three good sevens in that squad."
Lions coaches Graham Rowntree and Warren Gatland compare notes at training © Getty Images
Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry has also labelled Smith's selection a risk, but Wallabies vice-captain Will Genia on Friday dismissed fears the 110-Test legend had been rushed back prematurely. "George is a freak," Genia said. "He's running around like he's 21."
Rowntree doesn't doubt Smith's prowess, and he knows Irish flanker Sean O'Brien, in for injured Lions captain Sam Warburton, will have his work cut out. But he is backing the Lions backrow to win the key breakdown battle. "He's still good, still very good technically, but he makes very good decisions when to go in there to challenge the breakdown," Rowntree said of Smith. "It's going to be a big challenge for Sean. But from what we've seen from training today and how we've trained all week, crikey we're ready for this battle."
Genia and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans are promising Australia's best performance of the series, but Rowntree believes the hosts played their grand final in Melbourne. "I think we saw the reaction from Australia last week after they beat us," Rowntree said. "Especially their captain Horwill - he was crying after the game - they threw everything at us in that game and beat us by a point and we really didn't get our game going. We know that and we've looked at it a lot this week. Particularly third and fourth quarter, we didn't get going, and there's loads more to come from us. And the guys are desperate to win."