Ewen McKenzie has long been a George Smith fan but talk of a fairytale Wallabies comeback against the British and Irish Lions just doesn’t wash with the Queensland Reds coaching boss.
When his own outstanding openside flanker, Liam Gill, is currently rated third in the pecking order for Australia’s No.7 jersey, McKenzie sees an embarrassment of riches that requires no further addition.
Gill’s stand-out performance in the Reds’ scrappy 18-12 Super Rugby win over the Hurricanes once again highlighted his superb 2013 form and a compelling case for Wallabies inclusion.
The 20-year-old did it all against the Wellington outfit, racking up Queensland’s most running metres, making 12 tackles, forcing steals and penalties at the breakdown and also chiming in at the lineout.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett singled out Gill for his tireless and canny work in rucks which he believed was a crucial factor in the result at Suncorp Stadium.
Wallabies great Smith will make his return to Super Rugby with the Brumbies next week, prompting calls for him to add to his 110 Test caps against the Lions in June.
But with all the debate surrounding whether David Pocock and Michael Hooper can start in the same back-row, McKenzie finds it bemusing Gill is largely an ignored contender.
“He’s the forgotten amigo isn’t he?” he said. “There’s three of them and he’s the forgotten one.
“I think he is an outstanding player, he is in the game in so many different ways.”
It’s fair to say McKenzie wouldn’t swap Gill, who played eight Tests off the bench last year behind Hooper while Pocock was injured, for any of them.
Of all three, Gill is most like Smith as the consummate all-rounder, whereas Pocock’s an amazing ruck warrior and Hooper the speedy attacking threat.
He has lots of skills and makes contributions, including winning lineouts for us, attack, defence, getting on the ball, taking the ball forward,” McKenzie said.
“He is a very slippery player carrying the ball in close. It’s not wide channel running, it’s in close-in hard work and hard yards.
“He is doing exactly what we expect him to do so there’s no surprises in the Reds camp but hopefully it’s going to count for something down the track.”
Another fringe Wallabies forward to shine on Friday night was lock Rob Simmons who crossed for his first try in 51 games for Queensland, finally ending the banter he cops from teammates.
“As much as I’m happy for him there was a little bit inside me that was a bit disappointed,” smiled skipper James Slipper.
Halfback Ben Lucas is in doubt for the Reds’ trip to Melbourne to play the Rebels on Friday night due to a shoulder injury.