George Smith was in Canberra on Friday sounding like an ambitious politician. While he was playing down speculation that he’s eyeing higher honours, he certainly didn’t rule it out.
Since Smith announced on Monday he was returning to Super Rugby with the Brumbies on a short-term deal, there’s been talk the 32-year-old might also make himself available for the Wallabies.
With a hugely anticipated three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions starting in June, Smith admitted the chance to add to his 110-Test career is “enticing” despite retiring from international rugby three years ago.
But first, he accepts he needs to prove he can still handle the pace at provincial level after being released by his Japanese club Suntory.
“I retired in 2009 and nothing’s changed at this stage,” said Smith after his first training run with the Brumbies.
“Out of respect for the Brumbies and Suntory, my focus is to play for the Brumbies.
“I’m not going to lie. It is enticing. But I think it’s premature as I’ve got to perform for the Brumbies first to even be thinking of that.”
Smith faces a difficult task to get a start in the back row at the Brumbies, where the openside flanker played 128 games between 2000-2010.
Wallabies No.7 David Pocock, captain Ben Mowen at No.8 and blindside flanker and key lineout target Peter Kimlin form a formidable combination that has been crucial to their two wins to start the season.
But the versatile Smith says he feels in good physical shape to fight for a starting berth as early as next Saturday’s home clash with the Waratahs following this round’s bye.
“I don’t want to be a passenger here,” he said.
“I haven’t been in the challenger’s role for a long time. It’s something I’ll relish and I think I’ll rise to that challenge.”
Brumbies coach Jake White says Smith will be encouraged to help improve Pocock’s attacking game while being excited about having the luxury to rotate players in his forward pack.
“It just depends on how we see the combinations working,” said White.
“It’s fantastic to have George being able to play all three back-row positions.
“It’s a wonderful place to be now. I want everyone to be pushing for their place because it creates competition and, with competition, comes success.”
But while Brumbies fans can hope Smith plays a big part in helping them to the top of the Australian Conference, they shouldn’t expect him to definitely be available for any Super Rugby finals as they seek their first title since 2004.
“This is a three-month gig and that’s it,” he said.
“I’m contracted to Suntory Sungoliath for next season. I’m very happy there at the moment and they’ve treated me and my family with a lot of respect.
“I’m going back around July. I’ve got an important golf day with the boss. So I’ve got to be there.”