By Alan Dymock
COME SIX Nations time we always talk about Le Crunch when England meet France. In the final match of the British and Irish Lions series in Australia, though, with the tour set at one win apiece as we look to Sydney, this game looks crunchier than snail shells in your cereal.
For this all-important day, the Lions coach has laid out an unexpected side while the Wallaby coach has stuck to an almost identical team, with the exception of the return of mystical openside George Smith.
This all-or-nothing fixture will undoubtedly come down to a few moments of individual brilliance and with so many key match-ups throughout the sides, there is more than a passing chance that one or more of these confrontations will decide the result.
Will Genia v Mike Phillips
The return. The second-leg. The punchline. These two faced-off in the first Test, and although Phillips did not smear himself in glory as the firecracker Genia ran past him and away from him, Phillips still oversaw a Lions victory.
Genia is currently the favourite for Man of the Series and dictates how the Wallabies play. However, with Warren Gatland tasking his team with bludgeoning Australia into submission, the two scrum-halves may meet under very different circumstances this time round.
Wycliff Palu v Toby Faletau
Faletau tends to take the softly, softly approach to speaking, be it to the press or with his teammates. In this series, though, he has beaten defenders like they have pinched his mother’s bottom. He has been merciless.
Palu is another one who is understated but valued within his squad. While Ben Mowen and Michael Hooper have won plaudits, Palu has ben mashing rucks. He is strong and when allowed time to improve he can grow throughout a game, making more yards and posting bigger tackles.
Innocent bystanders may want to keep their arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times these two are near each other. You might not hear it coming, but it will be ugly.
Adam Ashley-Cooper v Jonathan Davies
Ok, so Davies is not O’Driscoll. We have moved on from that. He is, nonetheless, the gatekeeper to the Lions 13 channel, a place Ashley-Cooper wants to shepherd Kurtley Beale, Izzy Folau and Joseph Tomane through. It is a big responsibility to man that gap, and Davies has tended to step out of the line often in the previous Tests. He needs to be consistent.
Wily, in an I have a deal with Acme-type of way, Ashley-Cooper will do anything to get over the gain line. He is a slavish worker for his team. Davies has a lot of planning ahead to do, whilst he is on the pitch, in real-time.
George Smith v Sean O’Brien
Like a back-alley curry, you get to see George Smith all over again.
He is back and he faces a man he has never met before. A chugging thumper who wants the ball in his mitts a lot. Smith has made a career out of chopping such men down and leaching onto their ball, but there are so many uncertainties here. No one knows if Smith is still up to international standard.
If he is, O’Brien will struggle to stoop down to his level and may not shake him for the entire time he is on the pitch. If he isn’t, the Tullow Tank will ensure that the nuisance Hooper enters the fray. O’Brien has a long day ahead of him.
Israel Folau v George North
Well, big days deserve fireworks, don’t they?