The greatest opensides of all time: George Smith
George Smith became the youngest man to hit 100 Tests when starting against New Zealand aged 29 years and four days, no shock that the openside is now considered one of the greats
Major teams: Brumbies, Toulon, Suntory Goliath, Stade Français, Lyon, Wasps
Position: Openside flanker
Test span: 2000-13
Test caps: 111 (93 starts)
Test points: 45 (9T)
In the wake of an agonising 27-22 defeat to the Chiefs in the 2013 Super 15 final, Brumbies coach Jake White saluted George Smith.
“He’s a phenomena,” said the South African. It was easy to forgive the grammatical error. Over the years, Smith has certainly seemed like a plural form. Beside anything else, he has almost single-handedly altered the breakdown landscape.
Signed by Eddie Jones to the Brumbies, he stormed onto the Super Rugby scene as a dreadlocked 20-year-old in 2000, making his debut against the Sharks and scoring a try in the final as the Crusaders won 20-19.
A senior cap in France followed and 11 months on, the British and Irish Lions were Down Under. Smith’s reputation rocketed.
The openside hauled Australia back into contention after defeat in the first Test, celebrating his 21st birthday with a Man of the Match display in the series-sealing victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Smith’s innovative ability to support his own bodyweight, latch onto ball and snaffle possession at tackle situations was an indelible feature of the Brumbies’ Super Rugby win later that year too, and individual prizes mounted up. Nine Brett Robinson Awards for Brumbies players’ player supplemented two John Eales Medals.
Smith then took his talents globetrotting with Toulon, Japanese outfit Suntory Goliath and Stade Français. Tempted back to Australia when the Lions toured in 2013, he starred for the Brumbies, clinching a tenth Brett Robinson gong and earning a 111th outing against Warren Gatland’s men.
The Wallabies were whacked 41-16 in that decider and Smith received a sickening head knock when colliding with Wales hooker Richard Hibbard.
However, this was not farewell for one of the most durable figures in the professional era. Smith joined Lyon in the Top 14, demonstrating versatility across the back row in a campaign that ended in relegation and impressing enough for Wasps to bring him over the Channel for the 2015-16 season.
Age is just a number for Smith, who at 36, has inked a two-year deal at Queensland Reds where a coaching role awaits post retirement from the game.