Smith should be in the frame for Wallabies, says Gregan
He's still got it … George Smith. Photo: Getty Images
THE prospect of Brumbies legend George Smith extending his comeback to Australia and playing for the Wallabies in the British and Irish Lions series is one that coach Robbie Deans should seriously consider, former Wallabies captain George Gregan believes.
Gregan, a record 139-Test veteran, has joined the chorus of praise for Smith's decision to return from Japan where he recently re-signed with the Suntory Sungoliath club and play in Australia, as first reported by Fairfax Media on Monday. Gregan said Smith's ''world-class'' ability as a back-rower and his unique experience that includes 110 Tests and two World Cups would be invaluable.
Of all the Australians playing in Super Rugby, Smith, 32, will be the only one from the Wallabies squad that beat the Lions in the 2001 series.
Gregan, who also played in the 2001 Lions series, believes that experience would be like treasure for Deans in a series of three back-to-back Tests on consecutive weekends against the same team.
''Experience counts in these types of tournaments - three big Test matches in a row. He has a wealth of it,'' Gregan said on Wednesday.
''It's a totally different animal to the experience of playing the Rugby Championship - or the Tri Nations prior to that where you might play two Test matches in a row - but not three and against the same opponent. They are huge events with massive crowds, the atmosphere and they are all played at a very high standard.''
Hence, Gregan believes that Deans will watch Smith play for the Brumbies, with whom he has signed a three-month deal for the Super Rugby season, with possible Wallabies selection in mind.
''Most of the people in Australia will be watching him to see how he adapts back into playing Super Rugby and monitor his form,'' Gregan said. ''When a player like that comes back and makes himself available for Super Rugby - if he is playing at a really high level - of course you would want to be interested. Robbie is no different. As national coach you want your best possible players playing in your Test team - particularly in a series like this.
''I would never say he will be back in the team. There is a fair bit of play to flow under the bridge, but it's great to have someone of that calibre playing back in Australia again.''
Playing for the Wallabies would also need Suntory Sungoliath's approval, but club adviser and Japanese national coach Eddie Jones says that would be likely.
Gregan played for Suntory Sungoliath and said: ''Suntory would love [it] that he went back and played for the Wallabies again … so long as he came back.''
Gregan, who has watched Smith play in France and Japan since leaving Australia in 2010, believes Smith is more versatile than ever. ''He will turn up to Australian rugby in better shape than when he left,'' he said.