Brumbies legend George Smith could be coming back to play Super Rugby. Photo: Andrew Sheargold
WALLABIES legend George Smith is poised to make a return to Australian rugby to play for a Super Rugby franchise on a short-term deal for this season. He will not be putting his hand up for a Test comeback.
It is not known with which of the five Australian franchises the 32-year-old back-rower has been negotiating, but Fairfax Media understands an announcement has been scheduled for this week, possibly as early as Monday.
Smith, a 110-Test veteran, played with the Brumbies for 10 years and earned 120 Super caps with the Canberra side before leaving Australia in 2010 after the Super Rugby season to pursue his career overseas with the French Top 14 side, Toulon, for one season.
He then left Toulon to join the Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath in 2011 on a three-year, $1.2 million-a-season deal, making him the highest-paid Australian rugby player.
He has recently re-signed with the Tokyo-based club, who played Kobe Kobelco Steelers in the final of the All-Japan Championship in Tokyo on Sunday.
But with the season in Japan over, Smith now has time to play in Australia because Suntory Sungoliath players will not reconvene for pre-season training until June.
Smith is due to return to Australia this week to join his family in Sydney, who have welcomed a new addition with the birth of his and his wife Louise's fourth child, Rafael, now seven months old.
But the three-month break before he is needed back in Japan will allow Smith time to play Super Rugby again pending Suntory Sungoliath approval.
A similar arrangement last year had Smith playing in the Top 14 for Paris-based Stade Francais.
His return to Super Rugby will surprise many in Australia. There is no apparent lack of depth of openside breakaways or back-rowers among the Australian franchises.
Starting No.7s in round two of Super Rugby were David Pocock (Brumbies) who took the national strip from Smith at the end of his Test career, Michael Hooper (Waratahs), Liam Gill (Reds), Matt Hodgson (Force) and Kiwi Scott Fuglistaller (Rebels).
Smith was one of the world's best No.7s when he was at his peak. However, he can also play anywhere in the back row; and while he has pursued his career overseas in recent years, injury or circumstances in games have regularly required him to cover at the half-back, No.10 and No.12 slots.
In Japan, Smith has reportedly been blitzing the field for Suntory Sungoliath. His tactical brilliance and read of game, and his technique and physicality at the breakdown are reportedly as strong as ever.
That the Japanese game has not affected his standard of play would be of no shock to Waratahs coach Michael Cheika, who last year coached Stade Francais before joining the Waratahs and had Smith under his wing at that time.
''George Smith came and played in France for me for a few months … it didn't look like it affected him too much,'' Cheika said last month.