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Australian Rugby
A student of the game
Tom Hamilton in Sydney
July 4, 2013
No look of curiosity for this George © Getty Images

Rugby's a funny old game. On Thursday, the British & Irish Lions arrived in Sydney after their sojourn in Noosa. The squad will be readying itself for the all important third Test on Saturday with Brian O'Driscoll on the non-playing list.

The Wallabies have been in Sydney all week shacked up in a plush hotel overlooking the Rocks and George Smith's name is on the team roster and by the No.7 shirt. Both O'Driscoll and Smith played in the 2001 Test series, O'Driscoll played the first two this time around but will miss the third while Smith sat out the Brisbane and Melbourne affairs and made it back in time for Sydney.

Two men with 243 caps between them, a wealth of experience and you will be hard pushed to find anyone who will say a bad word about either of them. Earlier today, Smith and Michael Hooper, the man who has been relegated to the bench to make way for the 32-year-old, were posing for the video cameras in full Wallabies regalia throwing a ball between them. The apprentice and the master.

According to Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, Smith is getting better with age. Even those of a cynical nature thinking his coach would say that, will find it hard to disagree with old Dingo. Smith's performances for the Brumbies in this year's Super Rugby showed just how good he still is. The game has transformed dramatically since 2001, but one way or another, Smith will have a say in the result of Saturday's game.

"I've changed enormously," Smith told the press earlier today. "I played on instinct in 2001, I'd only had three or four test matches under my belt. So I was very green in terms of my game play in terms of being in the right spot at the right time. My rugby awareness is a lot better nowadays, my understanding of rugby players and why we do what we do, why you run these lines, why you tackle a certain way. I'm not saying I'm a perfect player or anything like that, I'm just a student of the sport."

A 'student' is probably downplaying his ability, for some he is the master. He is one of these figures in the game who has an aura about him alongside others such as Richie McCaw or the aforementioned O'Driscoll.

You can imagine O'Driscoll and Smith will have plenty to talk about if they get a chance after Saturday's game; two men who have seen rugby at its coalface more than most.

That will be fitting for my career to look back on and say, I've finished on a great occasion, a big moment and yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

"Selections are made by the coaching team and we all get selected or dropped in some capacity for unforeseen reason," Smith said. "I'm not sure what the reasons were there but Brian O'Driscoll is an iconic figure and an iconic person who lifts a squad and I have no doubt that he'll be behind the scenes working his magic with the squad."

And working magic is something Smith has been doing within the green and gold camp. Deans and Hooper - who was bizarrely brought into the same press conference as Smith despite being the man dropped to make way for the experienced openside - both spoke highly of Smith's off-field role. But come Saturday, all his focus will be on the on-field drama.

Lions be warned, Smith is looking to end his Wallabies career on a high. Though who's to say, despite his instance to the contrary earlier, he will not be pulling on the green and gold jersey in a couple of year's time when the World Cup arrives in London. Stranger things have happened.

"I retired in 2009 in Wales and played away from home with not too many friends and family there watching. This gives me the opportunity to play in front of them and to play in front of an Australian crowd on my home soil. That will be fitting for my career to look back on and say, I've finished on a great occasion, a big moment and yeah, I'm looking forward to it."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum