12 years have passed and yet once again, it all comes down to Sydney. When the Lions take on Australia tomorrow at the ANZ stadium, it will be almost a carbon copy of the situation we found ourselves in back then.
There is even the same Australian number seven hanging off the side of the scrum, significantly less fresh-faced but significantly more grizzled. George Smith completes a quite remarkable comeback from the international wilderness, to add one more to his already impressive tally of 110 caps.
Of course everyone expected another man from that 2001 test to be present this weekend as well, but Warren Gatland ruthlessly denied O’Driscoll his chance to go up against Smith again by dropping him from the squad. Whatever his reasoning is, whether right or wrong, a little of the romanticism has been taken out of the day with O’Driscoll not able to sign off with (potentially) a Lions series victory.
Anyway, selection debates have been done to death this week – the time for that is now over. The game will be, to borrow a well-worn cliché, on a knife-edge, and it is impossible to see either side running away with it. For neutrals – not to mention sponsors – it is a dream, but for fans it is all too much to take.
The Lions have set up to play a power game, with the likes of Richard Hibbard, Sean O’Brien, Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts all brought in to bash their way over the Australian defence, rather than using the guile of the likes of the Youngs brothers, Tipuric or O’Driscoll to run round it.
If it goes right, it is a very effective game-plan. O’Brien, Phillips and Roberts will punch holes in the defence arouns the breakdown and in the 10/12 channel, and from the ensuing phases Johnny Sexton has the distributing capabilities to release the likes of Davies, North and Bowe in the space created out wide.
The only worry is that it is not very subtle. The Australians will know exactly what is coming – it is merely a case of seeing if they can stop it.
It is almost time for the biggest game in recent memory to bring down the curtain on what has been an exhilarating season of rugby. All eyes on Sydney; come on the Lions!
image: © viajy chennupati