x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Third Test match-up: Australia v British & Irish Lions

A look at the key battles going into the series decider at Melbourne.

Key battles

James Horwill v Alun Wyn Jones

The jokes were flowing as soon as Horwill escaped his stamping charge and Jones assumed the Lions captaincy from Sam Warburton this week. When it comes to the coin toss, Australia's captain will no doubt say: "I'll go for heads." To which Jones will be within his rights to reply: "I know." The rivalry between these two second rowers has been colossal already. Add in the lingering animosity over the first Test stamp plus the fact they both now have captaincy status, and the ante has reached maximum.


George Smith v Sean O'Brien

Three years after retiring from the international game, Smith's farewell Test will be the biggest of all, as he becomes the first player to play against the Lions in separate series in the professional era. O'Brien, by contrast, sometimes feels like the Invisible Man of the Lions. He was many people's third-choice as openside flanker for the Test team, and certainly would not have been starting had Warburton, the tour captain, been fit. Having been given the nod ahead of Justin Tipuric, one of the few Welshmen Warren Gatland seems not to fancy, O'Brien's role in combating Smith will be crucial.


Adam-Ashley Cooper v Jonathan Davies

Davies may not feel like it is only his opposite number who will be eyeing his every move. Rather the whole world is against him on the unfair basis that Gatland opted to give him the red No 13 shirt that was supposed to be reserved for Brian O'Driscoll. If he can distance himself from the hype, he should go all right. Even O'Driscoll himself has been championing the cause of the brilliant Welshman. Ashley-Cooper, who has been nicknamed "The Chainsaw" by the hometown commentators for his incisive attacking, lies in wait.


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