SYDNEY (AFP) – Both the Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions are gearing up for the biggest game of their lives as the fiercely-fought series comes down to the crunch final Test match in Sydney on Saturday.
The Lions, seeking their first series victory in 16 years, are looking to stop the Wallabies' momentum following a come-from-behind 16-15 win in Melbourne last weekend, after the tourists won the opening encounter 23-21 in Brisbane a fortnight ago.
Australia coach Robbie Deans believes the Wallabies have saved their best for last and has strengthened his hand by recalling 110-Test flanker George Smith from a four-year international exile to take on the Lions.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland made the controversial decision to drop Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll and reunite crack centre pair Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts among a record-equalling 10-strong Welsh representation in the starting side.
The Lions have not won a series since beating South Africa in 1997 and lost the last series in Australia 12 years ago after winning the opening game, only to lose the final two Tests.
Saturday's showdown again promises another ferocious battle at the breakdown with French referee Romain Poite expected to be strict in his rulings at the scrum.
Deans has talked up the Wallabies' chances of victory, pointing to the greater cohesion among the combinations after playing two demanding Tests together.
"This will be our best performance, without a doubt. I think that's been coming," Deans said.
"If you look at the second Test, we started to get some rhythm. Combinations started to kick in. The Lions will intend to deny us that momentum, but either way this will be our best performance.
"We feel that the combination of experience and fresh legs that George Smith brings is the right way to go. His expertise in the contact zone, where timing, judgement and physicality is everything, is going to be critical."
But Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree declared that the best of Britain and Ireland are primed for the clash.
"Seeing how we've trained all week, crikey we're ready for this battle," Rowntree said on Friday.
"We've got to go out and give it everything because this is the biggest game of our lives, as players and coaches.
"They threw everything at us and beat us by a point last week. We didn't get our game going, we know that, and there is a load more to come from us.
"The guys are desperate to win - this is grand final rugby, the last throw of the dice with everything to play for."
The Lions are banking on a successful Welsh formula -- Davies and Roberts are among a sizeable contingent of Welsh players from this year's Six Nations championship-winning team, with an 11th on the bench. Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones captains the Lions for the first time.
The last time Wales had 10 men in a Lions team was the first Test against Australia in Brisbane in 1950, which the Lions won 19-6.
Scrum-half Will Genia said the Wallabies will be inspired by the return of veteran flanker Smith, describing him as a "freak" with an aura that will lift the Australians at the Olympic stadium, in their biggest match since the 2003 World Cup final against England.
"He's got great enthusiasm, he's got great respect from the guys and great respect from people in the game. He offers so much with his experience, with his ability at the breakdown," Genia said.
"For a lot of us, he has an aura about him and to have him in your side means a lot and definitely gives me a lift coming into this Test."