Hooper gets no sympathy as Smith recalled after four-year exile
Australia coach Robbie Deans made short work of a number of interesting subjects yesterday. He was in no mood to discuss reports that South Africa's World Cup-winning 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 tomorrow.
He was much more interested in talking at length about two of rugby's modern greats – he called the dropped Brian O'Driscoll "a legend of the game" but described his axing as "a totally understandable decision" from Warren Gatland.
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 bright young flanker Michael Hooper, who grew increasingly influential towards the end of last weekend's gripping contest in Melbourne, and recalling the 110-cap groundhog 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. "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 preferred 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," Deans said.
"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." (© Independent News Service)