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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Lions ready to double up

Australia v Lions, 1000 BST Sydney - Third Test

By BBC Sport Online's Jon Moore

After seven victories, two defeats and a record nine player-withdrawals, it all comes down to this.

Those who prophesised a 3-0 series whitewash for either side have already been proved wrong.

Eighty minutes of rugby now stands in the way of a consecutive series win for the Lions - their first since 1974.

Without doubt, the match is the most keenly anticipated clash for British and Irish fans since Ian McGeechan's men ran out against South Africa in Durban in 1997.

For Australia, too, the game is equally significant.

With Rod Macqueen, the most successful coach in their history, retiring after the game, they will be hoping to achieve what they have never done before - victory over the world's most famous side.

A 2-1 series win for the hosts would also cap two years in which they have won everything rugby union has to offer.

Rod Macqueen
Macqueen: Australia's most successful coach

The current world champions, they are also the holders of the Tri-Nations trophy as well as the Bledisloe Cup.

But for one monumental error from David Campese in 1989, the match might not be nearly so important for the men in green and gold.

Campese's hopeful pass in Sydney allowed Ieuan Evans to touch over and secure an unlikely series victory for the tourists.

Despite the margin of the Australian victory in Melbourne, there is little doubt that Saturday's third Test could be decided by a similar act of rashness.

At half-time last weekend, the tourists were coasting. Australia, as they had been for 65 minutes in Brisbane, were again unable to assert any dominance over the game.

But then came Wilkinson's pass. Joe Roff intercepted and within eight minutes the home side had scored 15 points.

Such moments can decide a series. Luckily for the Lions, the second Test was a match they did not have to win.

Thankful hosts

The trip, as with most Lions tours, has frequently resembled a battlefield.

But if the bruises on the pitch have made the fans wince, they are as nothing compared to the war of words that have taken place off it.

Both Australia and the Lions management have been guilty of failing to respect the history that should underline a Lions tour.

Supporters
Vocal backing could be crucial for both sides

But that is the modern professional way. There is no longer any time or inclination to regard the series as an opportunity to spread the gospel of the game. There are simply too many reputations on the line.

More often than not, the rugby has played second-fiddle to the views and opinions of both sets of players and coaches.

For all the bluster, however, Australia should be thankful that the Lions exist.

Never before have they witnessed such a passion for the game of rugby union, even if the home side have been outnumbered by the travelling fans.

In a country dominated by Aussie rules, rugby league and cricket, the 2001 Lions have done as much, if not more, for union down under than success in the 1999 World Cup.

Lions boost

Win or lose, Australia's less illustrious code of rugby will be all the better for the 10-match tour, though that is unlikely to be the priority for those Lions players who take to the field on Saturday.

After the withdrawal of Richard Hill and Robert Howley, news that Wilkinson has made the side is a huge boost to Graham Henry's men.

Dafydd James has taken the brunt of the criticism for the dismal second-half performance last weekend and is dropped in favour of Austin Healey, while former bad-boy Matt Dawson must rediscover his form of 1997 and face the challenge of George Gregan head on.

It will a huge task for the England duo, but they can rest safe in the knowledge that Australia, too, have suffered two key withdrawals.

Fly-half Stephen Larkham and second row David Giffin will not take any part in the third Test.

And despite Macqueen's suggestion he has confidence in their replacements, Elton Flatley and Justin Harrison, the news is an undoubted blow to Aussie hopes.

Make no mistake, despite the absence of Hill, Howley, Lawrence Dallaglio and Dan Luger - undeniably all likely Test team players - the Lions have the personnel to return home victorious.


Australia: 15 M Burke, 14 A Walker, 13 D Herbert, 12 N Grey, 11 J Roff, 10 E Flatley, 9 G Gregan, 8 T Kefu, 7 G Smith, 6 O Finegan, 5 J Eales (captain), 4 J Harrison, 3 R Moore, 2 M Foley, 1 N Stiles.
Replacements: 16 B Cannon, 17 B Darwin, 18 M Cockbain, 19 D Lyons, 20 C Whitaker, 21 J Holbeck, 22 C Latham.

Lions: 15 M Perry (England); 14 A Healey (England), 13 B O'Driscoll (Ireland), 12 R Henderson (Ireland), 11 J Robinson (England); 10 J Wilkinson (England), 9 M Dawson (England); 1 T Smith (Scotland), 2 K Wood (Ireland) 3 P Vickery (England), 4 M Johnson (England, captain) 5 D Grewcock (England), 6 M Corry (England), 7 N Back (England), 8 S Quinnell (Wales).
Replacements: D Morris (Wales), D West (England), C Charvis (Wales), M Williams (Wales), R O'Gara (Ireland), W Greenwood (England), I Balshaw (England).

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See also:

11 Jul 01 |  Rugby Union
Dallaglio out for season
24 Jun 01 |  Lions Down Under
Dallaglio out of Lions tour
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