Belfast Telegraph

George Smith swears Sydney game is his last hurrah

By Duncan Bech

George Smith is adamant the end of his four-year Australia exile on Saturday will be only a one-match cameo, but coach Robbie Deans is reading from an alternative script.

Smith's selection ahead of Michael Hooper at openside is the solitary change to the Wallabies' starting XV for their series decider against the British and Irish Lions in Sydney.

The last time the 110-Test veteran played for Australia was against Wales in 2009, but his strong form for the Brumbies following temporary release from club commitments in Japan has thrust him into one of the biggest matches of his life.

The only surviving Wallaby from the 2001 series against the Lions views the showdown at ANZ Stadium as a suitable stage on which to bring down the curtain on his distinguished international career.

"I'm pretty sure this will be the last game I play for Australia. No, it will be!" the 32-year-old said.

"I've had a fantastic international career and know when to bow out. The legacy I've left behind on the international stage I'm very proud of. This just caps it off.

"I retired in 2009 in Wales and played away from home with not too many friends and family there watching.

"This gives me the opportunity to play in front of them and to play in front of an Australian crowd on home soil.

"It will be fitting for my career to look back on and say 'I've finished on a great occasion, a big moment'.

"In terms of rugby it's the ultimate for me. To be selected in the starting XV for this decider, there's nothing higher for me."

Deans, however, is hoping to convince Smith to stay on for the forthcoming Rugby Championship, with outstanding openside David Pocock sidelined for the rest of the season by a serious knee injury.

The 2015 World Cup may even be on Deans' agenda having failed to convince Smith to play in New Zealand two years ago.

"I've encouraged George never to retire! I did put the question of his future to him in training today. His response was not dissimilar, but I didn't take any heed of it. I dismissed it," Deans said.

"He's probably not available for the next Test, but who knows? You're only young once and he's shown he's lasting well. The competition he's playing in Japan probably helps that.

"It does reinvigorate blokes when they have a career change. Spending more time with his family has been great for him and it hasn't hurt his game.

"In fact, the cross-pollination of experience helps with your game. He is perfectly capable of going through to 2015.

"Personally and from a Wallabies' perspective, before he retired we were very excited about he and David Pocock working in tandem."

Smith requested an early release from his Australian Rugby Union contract in 2010 and joined Toulon after completing that year's Super Rugby season, before then making his way to Japanese club Suntory.

He would have figured earlier in the series but for a knee injury that forced him to miss the first two Tests.

"George is better than when he left, to be frank," Deans said.

"He's played some remarkable rugby in Super Rugby and we're lucky to get the benefit of that experience."

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