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Ghost of Lions tours past is back to haunt Heaslip and O'Driscoll

“The tight jerseys [are new],” remarked Aussie flanker George Smith. “The fashion has changed.”

George Smith knocks Brian O'Driscoll aside in the 2003 World Cup.
George Smith knocks Brian O'Driscoll aside in the 2003 World Cup.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

GEORGE SMITH WAS one of the stand-out Wallabies in 2001 when the home side reversed a 1-0 series deficit to beat the Lions 2-1.

A knee injury looked to have scuppered Smith’s planned return from a three-year hiatus but he has recovered sufficiently and is pressing for a start in the Australia back row for the Second Test against the Lions on Saturday.

Smith took a full part in Wallabies training today before taking time out to speak to the media about repeating history 12 years on. “I retired in 2010 but what a series to come back for,” he remarked. “Obviously it is 12 years on [from 2001] and I’ve changed a lot in terms of my physicality and age. My determination and passion for the Wallabies has not changed.”

When asked if there were many differences between this tour and the last time the Lions toured Australia, Smith joked, “The tight jerseys [are new]. The fashion has changed.” He added:

I don’t know what involvement I’ll have yet, whether it is on the playing field or off it, but I’m happy to contribute… I’m ready to go. There’s no confusion over my fitness or knee injury. It’s non-existent any more in my mind.”

The 32-year-old added, “In 2001 there was a tremendous leadership group around me; a lot of maturity. Guys that had won a World Cup in 1999, a Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations… This is my first day back in three years so, for me, it’s about parking what happened last weekend and focusing on the next game.”

Smith revealed he was an anxious Wallaby supporter in his living room on Saturday as his country lost 23-21 against the Lions. “I thought Australia were the better team on the night. It was heartbreaking to lose that match, having come so close.”

The flanker praised young openside Michael Hooper for showing maturity after switching from his back row role to the inside centre position when Pat McCabe was stretchered off. Hooper may start again, with Smith coming off the bench. Blinside Ben Mowen is a near certainty to start the Second Test after hounding Lions scrumhalf Mike Philips non-stop in Brisbane.

A notorious pilferer at the breakdown, Smith could be in direct competition with Jamie Heaslip, the Lions best back row in the First Test, and Brian O’Driscoll, who often deploys himself at the breakdown but suffered referee Chris Pollock’s shrill, penalising whistle in Brisbane.

*TheScore.ie will be liveblogging all the Lions v Melbourne Rebels action live from 10am on Tuesday.

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Patrick McCarry

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