British and Irish Lions 2013: Australia coach Robbie Deans pleased Lions have lost Brian O'Driscoll's experience
Australia were planning O'Driscoll strategy but have also made big call in dropping Hooper
The Wallaby coach, Robbie Deans, made short work of a number of interesting subjects: he was in no mood to discuss reports that the World Cup-winning South Africa coach Jake White was about to relieve him of his job and dismissed out of hand Warren Gatland's assertion that the Australians might not have the emotional wherewithal to clinch the Test series against the Lions here on Saturday. He was much more interested in talking at length about two of rugby's modern greats.
Brian O'Driscoll was one of them. Deans admitted that he had been concocting his strategy for the third and deciding match on the basis that the Irish centre would be in the tourists' starting line-up, as he had been on every other occasion, fitness willing, since 2001. "That was our anticipation," he admitted, "and from our standpoint it's a little bit of Lions experience gone. Naturally, it would have been a great sign-off for Brian because he's a legend of the game.
"He'll be disappointed that he's not playing, but those decisions aren't made lightly and Warren will have given it due consideration. I also have no doubt that Brian understands the nature of the industry – he's been around long enough – and that he'll have perspective, because he's a quality bloke. In the end, Warren has put together something he thinks will serve him better.
"The reaction to these big selection decisions, the great interest in them, doesn't make it any easier, but that's what we're tasked to do – to clear the track and find a way through… find a way to succeed. It's not about doing the 'right thing' but about doing what's right. And of course, not everyone will agree on it. But we get a brief time in this game and we want to make the most of it. That's what Warren is looking to do. It's a totally understandable decision from him."
If Deans has not quite had an "O'Driscoll moment" in this series, he has still made a harsh call for this Test by dropping the bright young New South Wales flanker Michael Hooper, who grew increasingly influential towards the end of last weekend's gripping contest in Melbourne, and recalling the 110-cap groundhog flanker George Smith, who will play his first Test in almost four years, just eight days shy of his 33rd birthday.
Not that Deans felt the need to don his hair shirt before deciding on the change. "It was straightforward," he said serenely. "George has served Australian rugby enormously in the past and it was pretty evident that he would have been a part of this campaign from the start if he hadn't had the misfortune to suffer an injury just prior to the squad announcement in May.
"He was obviously keen to be involved because his recovery was remarkable. He's clearly a sly trainer. He pretends he doesn't enjoy training, but to have had the longevity he's enjoyed, there must be more to him than good genetics. He's also a master of the disciplines."
Deans may have felt sorry for Hooper, who was saddled with the unenviable task of playing out of position at centre for the second half of the Brisbane Test (conceding only one try in the process) before making a full contribution in his chosen role last weekend. If so, he did not show it for a second. Rather like Gatland, his fellow New Zealander, his cruelty to an individual was driven by a desire to be kind to his team.
"Michael has had the privilege to play two Tests against the Lions and he'll get the opportunity to play a third as well [off the bench]. His involvement might be defining. These blokes are beginning to understand that it's not about what you own, it's about what you contribute to a group. It's about helping the Wallabies do well on an important occasion."
Smith, like O'Driscoll, featured in the previous Wallaby-Lions extravaganza on these shores, a dozen years ago. He said the final Test of that series, played in this city and won by the home side after a bitter struggle, was "very much a blur", adding: "I was very young and I didn't know the magnitude of the Lions, but I was led extremely well by our senior players."
Those players included some of the titans of the green and gold jersey: the wing Joe Roff, the outside-half Stephen Larkham, the scrum-half George Gregan and – most of all – the lock John Eales, just about the most gifted individual of this rugby age. On Saturday, it will be Smith who takes on the responsibility of guidance. On balance, the Lions would rather he was watching from the stand, with a cold stubby in his hand.
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