George Smith set to return for Wallabies
May 1, 2013
George Smith (l) is set to embark on a second tilt at the British & Irish Lions © Getty Images
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is set to bend the rules and allow veteran flanker George Smith to play for the Wallabies in next month's three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions, coach Robbie Deans has confirmed.
Smith, who was part of the Wallabies squad that scored a 2-1 series victory over the Lions in 2001, is contracted to Japanese club Suntory and therefore technically ineligible to play for his country.
However, Deans revealed negotiations with Smith are on track and is confident the 110-Test legend will be available to face the Lions in June-July.
Asked by Sportal for an update on Smith's availability on Wednesday morning, Deans replied: "Talks are underway, we've just got to get the final clearance."
The coach then revealed he placed a call to an ARU official before fronting the media to respond to the Lions squad which was named on Tuesday.
Deans pulled out his phone mid sentence and read the reply from the unnamed official: "Here we go, 'All on track, just nutting out some of the details'," Deans read. "There you go, straight off the press. He's keen so there should be no impediments, but just dealing with Suntory, there's processes you've got to follow and they're very traditional to that end."
Smith's likely availability is a major coup for Deans after the season-ending knee injury to David Pocock.
The 32-year-old has been a revelation for the Brumbies since joining them on a short-term deal in March. He was originally signed until May 31 but has been granted permission to see out the entire Super Rugby campaign, with the final scheduled for August 3.
The Lions Test series will be held on consecutive Saturdays starting in Brisbane on June 22. Even with Pocock sidelined, Deans admits he's spoiled for choice in terms of openside flankers.
"You look at that cluster of David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Liam Gill, they're three almost once-in-a-generation players - it's great," he said.
Waratahs young-gun Hooper is the incumbent No. 7 and Smith's biggest opposition for the starting role in Brisbane.
Deans admits he was disappointed when Smith retired from Test rugby at the end of 2009 but believes he is still at the peak of his powers after stints in France and Japan.
"He's just class, and he's just built for it really," Deans said. "When David Pocock turned up and we had the two of them I was really hopeful we were going to have them side by side, which would have been great for both of them because they'd both drive each other, but also give them respite because it's an area where there is a high attrition rate.
"But obviously at the time it was an understandable decision from George. With a young family and four young kids and he wasn't seeing a lot of them with all the travel in the southern hemisphere. It worked out well for him and he's been lucky enough, it would appear, to come back and get a rare plum as well in a Lions series, so it's worked out well."