Smith’s fairytale return turns to nightmare in Wallabies’ 41-16 loss
The support of Wallabies legends, like George Smith, could help promote the NRC. (AAP Image/Joe Castro) .
This was not the Wallabies return the great George Smith had in mind.
Making his comeback and farewell to Test rugby on the very same night, Smith endured one of the most forgettable Tests of his 111-match international career as the Wallabies crashed to a painful series loss to the British and Irish Lions.
Playing his first Test in four years, Smith was on, off, on, off, on and finally off ANZ Stadium for one last time as a 41-16 loser.
Early on, it looked like his swansong would last but four minutes and 39 seconds after the champion flanker clashed heads with Lions hooker Richard Hibbard and was escorted off in a groggy state.
But living up to coach Robbie Deans’ assessment as the most resilient No.7 he’d ever seen, Smith was back in the thick of the action less than five minutes later.
But there was to be no fairytale.
There were no telling turnovers either and most certainly no repeat of his 2001 series triumph over the Lions.
Smith was none too pleased when Deans briefly substituted him after 26 minutes when prop Ben Alexander was sin-binned for collapsing the Australian scrum.
Turning 33 next week, Smith’s inclusion was the feelgood story of the week for the Wallabies in the build-up to the most significant home Test since the 2003 Rugby World Cup final at the very same venue.
But it was the Lions No.7 Sean O’Brien instead who stole the spotlight.
And as if to rub Deans’ nose in it, Lions coach and fellow Kiwi Warren Gatland showed there was no room for sentiment on such a grand occasion.
While Deans was lauded for recalling Smith, Gatland was widely condemned for dumping Irish superstar Brian O’Driscoll for the series climax.
Gatland, though, had the last laugh, with the Welshman who wore O’Driscoll’s No.13 jumper, Jonathan Davies, delivering the sweet last pass for Jonny Sexton’s second-half try that sealed the Wallabies’ fate.
All up, Gatland selected 10 Welshman in his starting XV and on this rare occasion Smith was unable to keep up with the Jones’s.