Enough with George Smith already

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One of the greatest things Robbie Deans did was to drop George Smith for David Pocock and allow some fresh youth to come through into the Wallabies.

When viewed as a part of a five year plan, it was clear that on that end of year tour youth and reinvigoration of our team was a major focal point.

For example it was great to see a young Quade Cooper jink and weave through the Italian defence to wrap the game up for the Wallabies.

Fast forward to the present day and the inevitable rumblings of ghosts past have begun their almost relentless championing of George Smith’s return to the Wallabies.

Paul Cully in the SMH discusses his statistical form, Jim Williams describes him as a must have, and many have gone to biblical lengths saying that heaven and earth must be moved in order to have the chosen one drafted back into the gold jersey.

I’m not so convinced.

George Smith was great, heck maybe even the greatest forward to don the Wallabies jersey, but he is not the right answer for this team.

Sure there are a stack of pros to having him in the team. For example, the Brian O’Driscoll effect – Smith’s experience and nous is a great thing to have around the training park, especially for players like Liam Gill.

Fotu Aulelua has already come out in the press this week and said how much of a strong influence Smith has had on his form to date.

But, and it is a big but, time moves on and there should be no room for sentimentality.

John Connolly and Eddie Jones (two of the worst coaches of the Wallabies in my life) showed too much sentimentality in allowing players like George Gregan, Stephen Larkham and yes even Smith to continue past their use by dates.

While I like Smith, his time has gone and it truly is time to continue our commitment to our youthful backrow superstars, Gill and Michael Hooper.

I have watched every game of Super Rugby this year, and Liam Gill is far and away the most impressive no. 7 in this country at the moment – and this is coming from someone who is not the biggest Reds fan at all (I took no end of pleasure when the Force dispatched them on the weekend).

He is everywhere, he is skilful and he is smart. Like all the great breakdown practitioners, he is composed at the breakdown and chooses his contest.

I sometimes have to pinch myself to realise that the guy is 20 and still growing into his body and role in the Reds. With David Pocock out, Gill must be the bolter for the 7 jersey.

Hooper dominated pretty much every opposition he came up against last year as he took his opportunity and went from strength to strength – his acceleration and linebreaking capacity was a surprise to most of us, given his relatively small stature.

Many Roarers have noted his lack of ground work as a negative – which is a fair point. There is no doubt in my mind his effectiveness has been dulled by the fact that he starred on the end of year tour and is targeted at breakdowns.

This is something that McCaw, Pocock and Smith have all had to live with, and Hooper is learning this lesson now.

I find it interesting that in some ways Hooper’s stature (and attitude) seem to parallel Phil Waugh’s – a gutsy, lionhearted player (albeit different) while Liam Gill has that ‘natural feel’ that permeated Smith’s play (that freakish ability – not sure if anyone saw Gill’s right foot clearance last week).

So where do we get to? Enough with the George Smith chat already and more focus on the future.

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