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The final clash of the 2006 Tri Nations competition is upon us, to be staged at Brisbane?s Suncorp Stadium between the Roo?s and the Old Dart.
All indicators point towards something bizarre taking place in this contest.
The list of strange and unusual things that have occurred thus far begin with Kidwell?s hit on Mason following on from Mason?s haka antics, Melbourne having the biggest crowd so far, Fien?s much publicised ineligibility, Mason?s suspension for decking Fieldon and Berrigan?s request to miss this week?s game in preference for his brother?s wedding.
But the blue ribbon goes to Long for his sudden departure amid rumours of drunkenness, gambling and a falling out with Noble. The official line from the British camp is that he?s feeling a little worn out from a long season and wants to be with his heavily pregnant wife.
That just doesn?t wash with me. Surely it wasn?t the last few games here that tipped him over the edge and as such I think he should have declined to tour. Now he?s come out and declared he won?t tour again and may end his International career.
That?s probably the smartest thing he?s said, which translates to: ?I?ll get in early and retire before they drop me for being a pea-heart?
So we?re missing Mason and Long, two of the tournament?s more colourful figures, leading to the question: ?What will steal the headlines??
Maybe the anticipated controversy will be that the game will lack a truly bizarre incident?
Whatever takes shape out there on the pitch will determine the two sides to play in the final next week in Sydney. Great Britain needs a draw or better to qualify or else New Zealand will attempt to defend their title as World Champions against the Aussies. This situation at least adds some interest to the competition with the Lions being the only team to defeat Australia so far, but the Kiwi?s dominating them in their last start.
Simpkins is blowing the whistle for this one which probably acts as a bit of an evener in the situation, but dry conditions in Brisbane will suit the Aussies better. One unknown quantity could be the crowd. There are a lot of Pommies arriving in Brisbane for the first Ashes Test Match beginning next Thursday and if they get vocal it could lift the spirits of the Lions.
Looking at the teams, we have the visitors first?
A few changes in the backs with Carney still injured. Pryce covers for him again with Gleeson replacing Yeaman in the centres. McGuire is joined by Hull?s Horne for the Lion?s third halves pairing so far.
The forward pack is unchanged as is the bench, with Noble cutting Yeaman, Carvell and Burrow from the equation.
And now for the Aussies?
Kangaroos: Karmichael Hunt, Brent Tate, Mark Gasnier, Justin Hodges, Greg Inglis, Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston, Brent Kite, Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva, Andrew Ryan, Nathan Hindmarsh, Luke O'Donnell
A solid team, Tate again holds his place ahead of the injured King. Hodges comes back into the three-quarters with Lyon dropped. The big change is Thurston back in no.7 jersey at the expense of Hornby.
Mason?s suspension has lead to a reshuffle in the pack. O?Meley goes back to the bench with Kite starting. Smith also rotates into the starting side with Berrigan moving back to the reserves. Ryan gets a reprieve in the backrow after being dropped for Game IV and Kaufusi is set to make his debut with Thaiday left out in the cold.
I think Australia have too much skill here for the Poms.
With Thurston and Hodges returning to the fold, the Roo?s look a more complete and fitter side. Mason?s suspension weakens the forwards a bit but there are ample replacements with Australia blessed in the front row stakes.
I?m a bit disappointed for Thaiday though. He would provide excellent impact from the bench and I think Stuart is playing favourites with Tupou again. I can?t really be anything else as Thaiday?s form over the back end of the season was superb and he played through the entire semi-final series so fitness can?t be considered a problem.
It?s good to see Kaufusi in the mix though; he deserves a run and will improve for next season at the Storm.
The Poms don?t look too bad though. Horne is an accomplished half who isn?t shy at scoring tries. Whilst their pack was dominated by the Kiwi?s last week, I still though Peacock went well as did Morley. The rest of them need to stand up an be counted though. The backrow is a little suss if you ask me and Fielden has remained quiet. Maybe they should try to fire him up a bit and start Morley in this one?
I don?t think they?ll miss Carney too much as he hasn?t been his usual bubbly self, which can be explained away through his injury. His replacement is more than capable but I?m worried about Gleeson in the centres.
I suppose Noble has opted for experience here but I feel he?ll be exposed by Hodges and Inglis on that side of the field. These two guys could be devastating out there on Saturday night with Hodges often finding the outside of his man and Inglis rarely being run down in a foot race.
With the disruptions to the Lions camp this week there are two schools of thought. Some say it will steel their resolve, other say it will work against their cohesion. I think it will detract from their performance and we should see a dominant victory to the Aussies.