12 years ago, aged just 21, George Smith took to the field to take on the British and Irish Lions, proving to be the pivotal factor as the Australians won the series and Smith took home the accolade of Man of the Series. This was the beginning of the George Smith international story; a story that saw him win 110 caps – more caps than any other Australian forward in history – and then surprisingly retire at the age of 29.
Now, this international exile could be over. Smith has been possibly persuaded to pull on the famous yellow jersey again and take to the field to combat the newest crop of British and Irish Lions to hit the Aussie shores. Whether he would have been approached had David Pocock not been sidelined is another question, but what is certain is the fact that Smith’s potential inclusion is a headache that Lions coach Warren Gatland could do without.
Looking at Smith’s achievements over his glittering career proves just why the Lions should be afraid. Not only was he named in the Wallaby Team of the Decade, he was also given the John Eales Medal for being the player of the year in 2002 (winning again in 2008). He has scored 45 points for his country, captained the Wallabies during the 2007 World Cup where his team lost out in the quarter-finals to a Jonny Wilkinson and Andrew Sheridan inspired England (both of whom failed to make the Lions squad, despite sparkling performances for Toulon).
Smith’s domestic career is just as impressive, spending the majority of his career with the Brumbies. His influence there was undeniable, earning nine Players’ Player of the Year awards, with eight of these coming in consecutive seasons. He was a key part of the squad that won the Brumbies only two championships and was named Australian Super Rugby Player of the year four times. After all these achievements Smith retired from international football and left for Japan in 2010 where is has played for Suntory Sungoliath, winning two All-Japan Championships. After two years overseas he has returned to Brumbies for Super Rugby this season, seemingly recapturing the form which made him arguably the best no.7 in world rugby.
Fans of the Wallabies shouldn’t get too excited yet though, as there are a few hurdles in Smith’s way before he runs out onto the pitch to represent his country again. These hurdles are formidable ones too, and come in the forms of young flankers Michael Hooper and Liam Gill. The question is this: can Robbie Deans trust one of these young talents with such an important role against the Lions? The general consensus in the rugby world is that the answer to this is “no” – after all, why spurn the experience and skill of Smith for a series of matches that don’t come around very often at all? Of the two, Michael Hooper would be the most likely to spoil Smith’s party, simply due to the fact that he has slightly more experience than Gill (Hooper has played for the Wallabies thirteen times, Gill nine), although both have shown promise in the domestic league. The most likely combination will be Smith in the starting line-up and Hooper on the bench, with Gill left to rue his bad luck that Smith has decided to make his much vaunted return.
Perhaps the final word should be left to the man responsible for deciding whether Smith will play though: Australia coach Robbie Deans. His statement to the press was: “It’d be great to be able to consider George. But it comes down very much to what he wants to do.” It seems therefore that there is only one man who can determine the international destiny of George Smith, and that is George Smith himself.
By Ilan Hurwitz
Ilan runs the Australian web site Football Jerseys Online where you can purchase Jerseys from the most popular teams including the British & Irish Lions & the Wallabies.