How the Brumbies are using George Smith

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By Elisha Pearce, Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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    George Smith returning to the Brumbies has been one of the great talking points of the Super Rugby season and turned out to be incredibly fortuitous for the Brumbies in light of David Pocock’s injury.

    But how are the Brumbies using Smith’s talents come game-time?

    During the loss to the Stormers, Smith was a very prominent figure for the Brumbies, but sometimes I didn’t think it was in the best ways, and there was a ripple effect I noticed as well.

    What is apparent in Smith’s involvement is the Brumbies are keen to get him involved as often as possible.

    Smith was running the ball, getting in rucks, playing half-back at the ruck and sometimes lineouts, being used as first receiver, sometimes even second receiver!

    He’s almost a type of utility player for the Brumbies.

    That would have been the perfect sort of combination of skills if he was still coming off the bench to boost the energy and direct the attack. But we now know that Smith is a starting flanker and will be during the foreseeable future.

    On face value, it’s very entertaining to see someone of Smith’s class and quality involved in the game at all turns, out of position and needing a varied skill-set.

    That kind of praise is what we are giving Rene Ranger with his rucking ability this year.

    Sergio Parisse is another player who receives plaudits because he is a great number 8 in the traditional sense, but also is a greatly skilled player with the ball in hand or even on the boot occasionally – he does things above and beyond what is expected.

    That’s what Smith is doing for the Brumbies, and what he started doing more during the last couple of years when he was here previously.

    There is such a thing as natural leadership and Smith has those qualities due to his experience and has the “been there, done that” aura. He brings stature, and with that a calming, galvanising influence.

    It was noticeable early on that Smith was tagged to get regular touches, as a distributor as much as a ball runner. He was ushering other forward runners onto the ball from his shoulder.

    Then he was halfback at a short lineout – a sound position for a man with his ball-skills. Ian Prior became the first receiver and Matt Toomua shuffled out further. This set up was repeated a few times.

    When lineouts were longer or Prior stepped into half-back, Smith would end up being the first receiver to crash the ball over the gain-line or pass to someone on his shoulder.

    All this involvement was working but there were also numerous dropped ball moments around Smith and his passes. There was also some questionable pass selection.

    Some of the people Smith selected were consequently driven backwards because they weren’t the right person to be carrying.

    Other times Smith got a bit too creative. That was typified by the inside flick ball to Henry Speight from a lineout that wasn’t high enough or expected and resulted in a drop.

    Being in the posture of a ball distributor also caused Smith himself to be driven backward a number of times.

    You could tell the times Smith was thinking only about carrying successfully because he drove his legs into contact, stooped forward and bent the line back.

    Other times Smith was caught in a half and half mindset of passing or running and was knocked solidly backward. His body height wasn’t low enough and he wasn’t carrying enough speed to the line.

    There was noticeable a ripple effect that was the result of Smith being such a heavily involved player.

    Toomua arguably benefited from some of the involvement by being able to pick his spots a little more, focus on cleaning up kicks from deep and make very incisive kicks himself. But it also meant that he wasn’t able to fully control and unleash the very potent backline very often.

    Further on down the line was Christian Lealiifano, who is one of the form players of the last two years in this tournament and for the majority of the game he was almost silent.

    The Brumbies need to be careful to ensure there is enough opportunity for the likes of Lealiifano to show their wares.

    When he kicked his first penalty of the night I realised that he hadn’t been involved in a play significantly until that swing of the leg. That is going to stop the Brumbies being as good as they can be.

    In the 29th minute was the first time I saw Lealiifano receive the ball in space with the option of running himself or giving it to the man outside him.

    He went in and away and was only just dragged down by his opponent, well past the gain line. That opportunity came down a 15m blindside. That’s not often enough, or juicy enough for someone with his skillset.

    I think the involvement of Smith’s wider skills should be part of the Brumbies plan. A useful comparison for his deployment could be Keiran Read. But having the ball in his hands too often prevents Toomua and Lealiifano from having enough touches to do what they do best.

    When the ball went to Toomua at first receiver off a lineout the first time, his run to the line was fast and the deft inside ball almost put Henry Speight away. Later in the game he did put Joseph Tomane through a hole with a lovely inside ball.

    Lealiifano also is too good to be relegated to a tackling and place-kicking automaton.

    The bright side is that Smith had three ruck turnovers that I counted and was very disruptive when he was around that area of the park during Stormers possession. He’s still a very able tackler and ball runner.

    I think the Brumbies need to use Smith’s talents fully but be aware that he’s a fantastic open-side and use those skills the most. Doing that releases the rest of the team that much more.

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • March 25th 2013 @ 7:37am
      Simon Levingston said | March 25th 2013 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      Elisha, you seem to be ignoring the 1000 lb gorrilla in the room. George Smith on his performances seems to be the form No.7 in Australia; he must be very good as the South African TV commentary were whinging about him, which is great news! The 1000 lb issue you haven’t raised is when will the ARU change the eligibility rules for veteran Wallabies like George Smith. I heard the ARU are waiting to hear from Robbie Deans that he wants George Smith in the selection mix; sounds like more head in the sand stuff from the ARU.

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 8:27am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Yeah, it would have been him or Liam Gill, but Gill didn’t play on the weekend.
        Very strange they aren’t being cut and dry with his situation. They should either say for sure he can’t play or just make him available and let Deans select him if he wants.
        Going half/half and waiting til he’s basically been put in the run on team isn’t going to make them look astute in the long run.

        • March 25th 2013 @ 10:03am
          Crash Ball2 said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          There is some irony in the fact that many consistently bemoan the effort of Australian forwards and then take issue at GS’s tireless involvement across the entire backrow, halfback, first receiver, distributer and ball runner for the Ponies. Particularly given that judging Smith on his 7 work alone, he is topping most traditional metrics. Am I alone in thinking we are holding Smith to standards that no on other player is accountable to – and more importantly, that he is meeting them? Perhaps also some acknowlegement from pre-season critics that his motor is as high octane as it’s ever been – the transition from money ball to the fastest provinical rugby competition in the world seems to have been seemless no? Can I get a freakin’ amen?

          • March 25th 2013 @ 10:04am
            mania said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:04am | ! Report

            amen

            • Columnist

              March 25th 2013 @ 10:21am
              Elisha Pearce said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:21am | ! Report

              Amen. Smith has only been rivaled by Liam Gill in movement around the park atm. Smith doesn’t carry quite as well as he used to but he’s still better than 80% of our forwards.
              Do you want to talk about how that involvement has been working for the team as a whole as well though?

          • Columnist

            March 25th 2013 @ 10:41am
            Brett McKay said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:41am | ! Report

            Freakin’ Amen….

          • March 25th 2013 @ 10:53pm
            GWS said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:53pm | ! Report

            A-freakin-men

        • March 25th 2013 @ 7:31pm
          niwdeyaj said | March 25th 2013 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

          changing the rules to allow him to play is one thing – negotiating his Japan contract to allow him to stay is another. I think there is probably a team of people working on this (cutting a deal with Suntory) and as soon as that is finalized, we’ll see an announcement from the ARU confirming he can play for the Lions.

          making that announcement before negotiating with Suntory would give them way too much bargaining power!

      • March 25th 2013 @ 11:53am
        TembaVJ said | March 25th 2013 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        Simon the 2000lb pink elephant is that if the restrictions are lifted there will be no quality players left in Aus, they will all play over seas and still get selected.

        The trick is to get a balance, you have to do your time so to speak. Someone has mentioned 70 tests as a number before, once you reach that you can play OS and still get selected.

    • March 25th 2013 @ 8:04am
      mania said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      good article. smth is the kind of player that pull this type of game off but i’m wondering is he still able to complete his core flanker duties? missed the brumbies game in the weekend so i’ll have to wait for the next game

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 8:30am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:30am | ! Report

        Thanks Mania.
        Well he is doing the flanker duties fairly well. I noted 3 turnovers and a lot of other disruption. (Sports Nut thinks there might have been 6, which is a lot but possible I suppose.) The problem was him having the ball seemed to diminish the roles of the other two very good ball players. Not trying to say Smith is doing the wrong thing, but they need to manage it to ensure he’s doing his main role more and the link play is a clear secondary option.

        • March 25th 2013 @ 8:36am
          mania said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:36am | ! Report

          agree EP. each game of smiths impresses me but i agree that at some stage he’s gotta get back to the basics.

    • March 25th 2013 @ 8:09am
      Sports Nut said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      Ah he forced 6 turnovers, he’s clearlydoing his job at 7. He made a few mistakes here and there but honestly, he’s carving up. Sign him up.

    • March 25th 2013 @ 8:50am
      Felix said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Smith is like S.Burger for SA,would never be dropped if fit,he’s too good to drop,honestly I rate Smith higher than Pocock although there are days when Pocock just takes over

      • Roar Guru

        March 25th 2013 @ 6:35pm
        Mantis said | March 25th 2013 @ 6:35pm | ! Report

        Smith has it all over him in attack.

      • March 25th 2013 @ 10:56pm
        GWS said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:56pm | ! Report

        Smith remains the freak but godamn I’d give my left one to see him and bam bam in gold jumpers together

    • March 25th 2013 @ 8:53am
      Crash Ball2 said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      I recall the count was 4 turnovers, no penalties against at the 3/4 mark. Not sure how it ended. Off the ball there should be mention of GS being a constant menace for the Stormers first receiver and clearance kickers (causing more than one skewed punt), hard shouldered in the tackle, the Brumbies most effective and consistent clean out merchant, always present and abrasive at all points. If anyone needed a lesson on balance and leverage from Smith – getting the better of a giant SA lock some inches taller, cement blocks heavier and with significantly enhanced reach was a poignant moment. As SL mentioned, throughout the game and post match, the SA commentary was emphatic at the ageless juggernaut of George Smith. And rightly so.

      I agree with the general message of the article in that, incredibly versitile as he is, in general play I’d like to see the talented Brumbies inside backs getting their hands on the ball more. Equally, a crash ball merchant he is not – and if this is the Brumbies intention they could easily utilise Auelua off Toomua or LLF’s outside shoulder a little more.

      However, at attacking lineout with the rolling maul beckoning, Smith at halfback is great at perceiving defensive weakness, lends weight to the collision and was indeed the spearhead for a memorable Brumbies try just a couple of weeks back. Equally, his movement across the backrow at scrum time is a reflection Smiths ability to make great decisions based on the situation.

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 10:22am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Good post there CB2. You make some good points, and I think Smith as HB at a maul or a short lineout is a good thing too. Auelua was used more and more as the game progressed and he was impressive again.

      • March 25th 2013 @ 11:35am
        TembaVJ said | March 25th 2013 @ 11:35am | ! Report

        CB2 I had a big laugh when GS pulled that move on the lock, why stay up there in his territory, when you could just bring him down and play in your domain. No punches thrown, just a little roll over to show you who is boss. The Stormers were niggling GS all game long.

        White has a plan with GS, it might be experimental now but one has to stand and take your hat of to GS, he was everywhere.

        I often wonder why Jake White keeps CL at center when he such a promising 10 but then again, white is renowned for his ability to spot and develop talent, maybe he thinks CL is a better center and Toomua a better fly half? If that is the case its good news for Australia in the long run.

        • March 25th 2013 @ 11:43am
          mania said | March 25th 2013 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          CL needs a power centre outside of him. pointless having 2 play makers next to each other as defenders will know they have a weak running game

        • March 25th 2013 @ 1:47pm
          ScrumJunkie said | March 25th 2013 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

          If that’s what JW thinks I totally agree with him. CL is a natural 12, and Toomua is a natural 10. CL is talented so can peform at 10 when required, but his best position is 12.

          Too good running with the ball, and defense to be wasted at 10 when you have a pretty solid 10 in Toomua. Plus they compliment each other so well.

    • March 25th 2013 @ 8:59am
      Sports Nut said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:59am | ! Report

      Even though he physically was targeted for some ferocious defence from the Stormers players, Smith still won half a dozen turnovers at the breakdown and regularly linked productively in attack – Wayne Smith, The Australian.

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 10:23am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        He was definitely targeted. Which is probably related to the point I made at the start. Some players are natural leaders whether they are given the titles or not, Smith is one of those. He’s a key to the stability and the morale of the team. I’d try and smash him too.

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