SYDNEY: Flanker George Smith will make a sensational return to test rugby tomorrow after being named to start for Australia in the decisive third test against the British and Irish Lions.
Smith bowed out of international rugby in 2009 after making 110 appearances for Australia - including all three tests against the 2001 British Lions - but will now win his 111th cap against the tourists at Sydney's Olympic Stadium.
Once one of the best openside flankers in the world, Smith stormed back into contention for this year's Lions tour on the back of some brilliant performances for the ACT Brumbies.
He looked like being ruled out by a knee injury on the eve of the initial squad announcement but a remarkably quick recovery saw him called into the squad after Australia's first test defeat.
Coach Robbie Deans said it had not been a difficult decision to make the change, which was the only one to his starting line-up from the side that beat the Lions 16-15 in the second test in Melbourne last weekend.
"Pretty straightforward really, it's not a big decision to select George," Deans told a news conference.
"He's a great bloke to have around. He's a quality bloke aside from the game and obviously he's very experienced so he will bring a lot of composure to the group.
"He's better than when he left to be frank. He's played some remarkable rugby in Super Rugby and we'll get the benefit of that experience."
The 32-year-old's surprise selection yesterday sees incumbent openside Michael Hooper dropped to the bench and Liam Gill missing out altogether - a tough call on a player whose late line-out steal played a major role in Australia winning the second test.
Deans was keen to point out that Smith's selection in no way reflected dissatisfaction with the other two opensides.
"Hoops has had the privilege of playing two tests against the Lions and he'll get the advantage of playing a third one as well, and his involvement might be defining," he said.