Australia v British & Irish Lions, Sydney, July 6
George Smith 'can make Rugby World Cup'
July 4, 2013
George Smith is playing 'remarkable rugby in Super Rugby' © Getty Images
Two years after almost luring George Smith for Rugby World Cup 2011, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is urging the newly reactivated flanker to play on to the 2015 finals.
Smith will make history on Saturday night, when he becomes the first player of the professional era to face the British & Irish Lions in two series, but Deans does not want the Tom Richards Cup-deciding Test to be the veteran's swansong. The Wallabies coach believes the 110-cap great is playing as strongly as ever, and is in better shape than when he announced his international retirement at the end of 2009.
While Smith declared the series decider at a sold-out ANZ Stadium as his farewell Test, Deans felt he could easily do what All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw aims to do by turning out at the next World Cup. "I've encouraged him never to retire," Deans said of Smith. "He's shown he's lasting well. He's better than when he left [in 2009]. He's played some remarkable rugby in Super Rugby. He's perfectly capable of playing in 2015 [World Cup]. How old's Brad Thorn?"
Dual international Thorn is 38 and still going strong for the Highlanders. And the former Brisbane Broncos NRL player was 36 when he helped New Zealand win Rugby World Cup 2011. Smith, who turns 33 next week, would be 35 at the next tournament in England.
Cleared to return to play for the Wallabies by his Japanese club Suntory, Smith revealed he almost initially returned for the 2011 World Cup. Deans approached him to play in tandem with David Pocock in New Zealand after he finished a stint with French club Toulon, and he was sorely tempted, but a deal never materialised. The revelation casts new light on one of Deans' most criticised selection calls in failing to include a specialist No.7 back-up for Pocock at Rugby World Cup 2011. An injury to Pocock before the Wallabies' pool game against Ireland proved catastrophic as they were ambushed and outmuscled at Eden Park.
"I was tempted to come back for the World Cup," Smith said. "I retired in 2009 in Wales and to play away from home with not too many friends and family there watching. "[But] this gives me the opportunity to play in front of them, and also to play in front the Australian crowd on home soil. That will be fitting end for my career."
Smith has not played for six weeks due to a grade two knee ligament strain but he and Deans both dismissed fears he was being rushed back too early. Deans has dropped Michael Hooper to the bench and fellow young gun Liam Gill from the squad to make way for the Brumbies legend to oppose Irishman Sean O'Brien. "[Gill] has a huge future, and so does Michael Hooper - I just wanted them to give me one game," Smith said.
George Smith describes his elation at being called up to face the Lions again