SPIRO: George Smith is a gift Robbie Deans must accept

Spiro Zavos Columnist

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    George Smith playing for Stade Francais. AFP PHOTO / THIERRY ZOCCOLAN

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    On Tuesday I was in the State Library doing some research for an essay on the 1888 tour of Australia and New Zealand by a British rugby team (with no Irish players for some reason or other).

    This tour, 125 years ago, was the first group of rugby players to come down under, and set the pattern for what has developed into the fabulous tours by British and Irish Lions side that is coming here in June.

    Coming out into Macquarie Street with my head still spinning from reading the small print of various newspapers and magazines of the period, I was greeted by a mate, a knowledgeable rugby man, who said to me: “Where do you stand on George Smith playing for the Wallabies against the Lions? He was absolutely sensational last week.”

    I replied: “Well, there is nowhere to stand right now because he isn’t available, as far as I know.”

    Then yesterday the Courier Mail revealed that Jake White had persuaded Suntory, Smith’s employer in Japan, to extend the loan of the player to the Brumbies until the end of the Super Rugby season in August; and as it happens well inside the June Tests time-line of the Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions.

    This means that the 110-Test Wallaby great is available for the Wallabies, if Robbie Deans wants to use him.

    It also means that if Smith is selected, the two brilliant youngsters, Liam Gill and Michael Hooper, could miss out on the chance of a rugby lifetime in playing against the Lions.

    Like all good coaches, Deans puts a high value on players who have performed well for him in the past.

    This is why Pat McCabe, for instance, gets selected in his Wallaby sides when he is available. And both Hooper (particularly) and Gill have played splendidly for the Wallabies. On many occasions last year Hooper was the best Wallaby on the field.

    Gill (particularly) and Hooper (not so noticeably, although his statistics are excellent) have played very well this season. Gill totally out-played the Chiefs’ Sam Cane, a rising champion of New Zealand rugby as a loose forward.

    But neither of them, Gill or Hooper, has played with the same damaging authority, muscularity, intelligence, impact and big cat lethalness as Smith.

    His play for the Brumbies reaches back to the golden days of his prime with his sharp running, exceptional skill with the ball and the huge impact of his tackling.

    Neither Gill nor Hooper were going to be the Wallaby open-side flanker in Deans’ original plans this season. David Pocock was going to be the man, and in all likelihood the captain of the side as well.

    Pocock is out injured and won’t be available for the Wallabies in the series.

    To me Smith brings the sort of qualities Deans wanted from Pocock in the Lions series – toughness, maturity, certainty in the tackle and an uncompromising game-sense to counter what will be a tough and wily Lions pack of hard men.

    All this gives Saturday night’s monster clash between the Reds and the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium an added edge, as many players, including Smith and Gill, go head-to-head in competition for a place in the Wallaby squad.

    As I noted before, Deans’ heart will be on the side of Gill and Hooper. He has often stated that the greatest thrill of his rugby career was playing against the Lions.

    He wants his players, young and old, to experience what he has experienced.

    But this is one occasion where his head must over-rule his heart. It would be a terrific thing for Australian rugby to do what the Springboks did in 2009, and the All Blacks in 2005, and Rod Macqueen’s Wallabies (for the first time by the Wallabies) in 2001 and win the series against the Lions.

    This is why I would argue that George Smith, playing as he is right now, is a gift to the Wallabies that Deans really has to accept.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (160)

    • Roar Guru

      April 18th 2013 @ 1:27am
      Rob na Champassak said | April 18th 2013 @ 1:27am | ! Report

      Pilfers in the season so far:

      5 – Liam Gill
      5 – George Smith

      Hmmm.

      One could take the view that the match this weekend should settle the matter, but in any case Smith’s experience would be invaluable anywhere in the squad if he is available (and apologies to Brett, but it’s starting to look as though he will be).

      We needn’t start him in the XV unless Gill falls off the pace, of course. All else being equal, only one of these players can cover an entire backrow from the bench.

      • April 18th 2013 @ 2:41am
        Dan said | April 18th 2013 @ 2:41am | ! Report

        Yes, but you needn’t start from the bench to cover other positions. George Smith can, indeed seems to show a propensity to, change positions as the game goes on. To my mind, the experienced head on the field at the kick-off is a must.

    • April 18th 2013 @ 1:37am
      jus de couchon said | April 18th 2013 @ 1:37am | ! Report

      Perhaps the lack of depth in Australian rugby is highlighted by his inclusion in any potential Wallaby team.

      • April 18th 2013 @ 4:40am
        Justin2 said | April 18th 2013 @ 4:40am | ! Report

        How so?

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2013 @ 7:53am
          Rob na Champassak said | April 18th 2013 @ 7:53am | ! Report

          The same way New Zealand Rugby is weakened by their stubborn persistence with Richie McCaw. Duh!

      • April 18th 2013 @ 8:12am
        Dan said | April 18th 2013 @ 8:12am | ! Report

        not sure i follow your logic there pig juice. Based on form smith would be included in any of the southern hemisphere teams at the moment. I take it your being intentionally inflammatory?

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2013 @ 9:11am
        sixo_clock said | April 18th 2013 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        Oh dear, here come the pasty skinned, vitamin D deficient, serially unwashed experts whose front teeth extend beyond their imagination. Hubris is a university level subject, or should be, in their collective re-academisation of the planet.

        We would rather have the French, old boy. They are, on a good day, bloody good and not nearly as noisy as those who recently lost an empire, and soon their own country, followed shortly by their identity.

        But don’t let me stop you, embarrass yourself to your pacemaker’s content.

        • April 18th 2013 @ 9:32pm
          Steve said | April 18th 2013 @ 9:32pm | ! Report

          Not really related to Rugby here, but by ‘lost their own country’ it sounds an *awful* lot like you are pointing to Britain being ‘over-run’ by ethnic types.

          Conforming to a few stereotypes yourself, aren’t you?

          Luckily most Brits don’t think like that (no ‘White Britain’ policy, Old Boy)

          • Roar Guru

            April 19th 2013 @ 9:10am
            sixo_clock said | April 19th 2013 @ 9:10am | ! Report

            Bury that head deeper into the sand, blinded, you can always live off your memories. A thriving industry from all accounts.

            The ‘lost your country’ comment refers rather to the lack of political will to deny entry to another country’s cowards. Britain of old became what it was because it harboured little support for the faint-hearted. People fought hard for a better world and your history is where it mostly happened. However, unable to rid yourselves of the medieval anachronisms held you back and the new world took over supremacy. Those cowards now look to take advantage of that lack of will and intimidate emboldened by the belief that if they show resolve then they will eventually be your masters.

            So it is not a stereotypical argument I employed, rather an examination of a process which attempts to debase every modern society and has at its core political correctness.

            Ya follow.

            • April 20th 2013 @ 1:18am
              Steve said | April 20th 2013 @ 1:18am | ! Report

              Yes, I follow fine: refugees= cowards, hard-working ‘ethnics’ looking for a better life= cowards.
              Oh yes, and Britain was great in the old days because of its attitudes, but then it collapsed because it wouldn’t give up its old attitudes.
              If my head’s in the sand, I don’t even want to say where you’ve stuck yours

              • Roar Guru

                April 20th 2013 @ 7:51am
                sixo_clock said | April 20th 2013 @ 7:51am | ! Report

                Why not just say you couldn’t follow, cuts to the chase eh what.

                A better life is also achievable when you stand up and fight. You were geographically lucky, you had to be able to sail to get away, expensive and difficult at first…

        • April 18th 2013 @ 9:33pm
          Ben.S said | April 18th 2013 @ 9:33pm | ! Report

          Wow.

    • April 18th 2013 @ 1:52am
      A Different Cat. said | April 18th 2013 @ 1:52am | ! Report

      Australia will win this series against the Lions.

      Robinson
      Moore
      Palmer
      Simmons
      Horwill
      McMenimen (hes still a chance)
      Smith
      Palu
      Genia
      Cooper
      Ioane
      Tapuai
      AAC
      Tomane
      Barnes (Reliable kicker is crucial as was shown in 2012)

      Reserves: TPN, Slipper, Alexander, Timani, Higginbotham, White, Beale, JOC.

      This combined with a home advantage will be too much for the Lions. I hope.

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2013 @ 3:00pm
        Mantis said | April 18th 2013 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

        I hope thats not the side. It should be an all Brumbies front row, with either Alexander or Sio with Palmer. If MMM can play he is a good 5 or 6, hopefully at 5 though and Mowen gets a chance at 6. He has earned his cap.

        Cooper should be the 10, but it depends on Deans and his pride. I think O Connor may get the nod because of this, but after the way Quade played on the weekend, it will be tough leaving him out.

        Lealiifano has to play inside. He has had a ripper the last 2 years, and although Taupai has played well as well, Lealiifano has played better. Outside is AAC by default, purely because there is no one better.

        Barnes at 15 is the biggest problem I have. He shouldnt be anywhere near the side. If Mogg keeps up his early season form he will demand the 15. If not I daresay it will go to Folau, or Beale if he sorts his stuff out.

        • April 19th 2013 @ 3:25am
          A Different Cat. said | April 19th 2013 @ 3:25am | ! Report

          You need a good kicker. Barnes and Harris won games for Australia with their boot in 2012. Barnes played very well for Australia in last year. He was man of the match in more than 1 game.
          Lealiifano is uncapped and is a risk, Tapuai is the incumbant and playing very well. I would probably give Tapuai the edge in defense too.
          You play a team to win and Barnes is a better option at 15 becuz he is an incumbant of sorts and a very good kicker under pressure. He is also a better defender and tactical kicker. Compare that to an uncapped player who is not tested or the kicker that Barnes is. Barnes is just more valuable.

    • April 18th 2013 @ 2:03am
      ANON69 said | April 18th 2013 @ 2:03am | ! Report

      No, he is too arrogant for that.

    • April 18th 2013 @ 2:17am
      jus de couchon said | April 18th 2013 @ 2:17am | ! Report

      The Lions will win. Also , this time , I expect them to win 3 zip. Nothing personal but the the Australian fixture should be dropped from any future Lions Tours. Nice place to go but come on, Aus only has a rugby team by default. They do Rugby league much better.

      • April 18th 2013 @ 4:41am
        Justin2 said | April 18th 2013 @ 4:41am | ! Report

        Troll

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2013 @ 5:38am
        peeeko said | April 18th 2013 @ 5:38am | ! Report

        nice one, yeah they have only won 2 world cups and beat the lions last time.. i cant believe that i bothered to respond to your nonsense

      • April 18th 2013 @ 8:14am
        Dan said | April 18th 2013 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        yep…. intentionally inflammatory…

      • April 18th 2013 @ 2:17pm
        Happy Feet said | April 18th 2013 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

        Its amazing how some people just try so hard.

    • April 18th 2013 @ 3:28am
      Dexter William said | April 18th 2013 @ 3:28am | ! Report

      Spiro

      You could also argue that Deans should have encouraged and convinced George Smith to play in RWC2013. It would have avoided the use of McCalman as 7 against the Irish.

      As on lookers, we can not help but believe that Deans is having personal differences with a Wallaby great that on all accounts is a well behaved and a valuable team player.

      Eddie Jones did give us some inside info in his article on Deans:

      http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/rugby-gold/out-of-the-picture-deans-a-past-master-at-making-things-personal/story-fn8tkhjf-1226619522351

      Apparently Robbie Deans have not even bothered to make a phone call to George so far.

      Or you know nothing about Rugby and must be blind to think that George Smith is worth consideration based on his effort in S15 so far. Maybe we are all blind to what Robbie Deans sees in his personal selection of more under performing Tahs than we agree on in his current 30.

      • April 18th 2013 @ 6:00am
        Red Kev said | April 18th 2013 @ 6:00am | ! Report

        Why would Deans call Smith if the ARU rules Smith ineligible? If Deans wants Smith he needs to be talking to the ARU, and if the ARU says no (as I suspect they will) then there is no reason to talk to George Smith.

        • April 18th 2013 @ 8:32am
          Dexter William said | April 18th 2013 @ 8:32am | ! Report

          Spiro post seems to suggest that GS is now available, but however whoever needs to be done is at least a question from RD first to GS and if GS say yes, RD then goes to ARU – Logical steps isn’t it?

          If RD is a good Public communicator (which he is not), he should actually say something in the media that he has asked ARU about this and it is ARU who says no. Or when asked about GS, he should say that he will request ARU for a decision.

          • April 18th 2013 @ 8:44am
            Red Kev said | April 18th 2013 @ 8:44am | ! Report

            I posted this in the other thread but it is relevant here too:
            I just found a news story that states the following: Currently, the ARU regulations say all players considered for Wallabies selection must play in an Australian Super rugby team. There is no mention of the word contract there so I could be very mistaken, it could simply be a fact of playing rugby in Australia whether on loan or not.

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2013 @ 12:16pm
          AdamS said | April 18th 2013 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

          I think that’s cart before the horse RedKev.
          No point in all the back room drama and an exhemption for George if he does not want to play.
          He has history with Deans, and has said several times that he is not available for the Wobblies.
          Perhaps the thought of playing under a horrible coach who ended his wallaby career irks him enough that he would forgo the chance at the Lions?
          Perhaps he thinks Deans is such a bad coach that he will fluff it and doesn’t want to be attached to a losing team?

          Would the sensible approach be to find out if he wants to play first, before doing all the hard yards to make him eligible?

          • April 19th 2013 @ 3:40am
            A Different Cat. said | April 19th 2013 @ 3:40am | ! Report

            Adam where do you get your information from?
            Deans did not end Smiths career and what “history” are you talking about?

      • April 18th 2013 @ 10:30am
        Markus said | April 18th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

        I don’t think Jones gives any inside info in that article, just his opinion on past selections that have occurred under Deans.

        His analysis that Lealifano has no passing or distribution skills, and that Beale is still one of the best two flyhalves in Australia suggests to me that the article is nothing more than personal opinion.

      • April 18th 2013 @ 10:40pm
        johnson said | April 18th 2013 @ 10:40pm | ! Report

        if its in the daily telegraph it must be true!!

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