Smith's homecoming 17 years in the making

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

George Smith looks at his game as a malleable object.

Perhaps that explains his longevity, as rugby is almost unrecognisable in the way it is played now compared to when a dreadlocked Smith made his debut for the Brumbies in 2000.

While his core skill of foraging through breakdowns in search of precious turnover ball remains constant, the 36-year-old uses his energy in far more economic fashion now than he did when he first burst onto the scene - a byproduct of having his head buried in thousands upon thousands of rucks.

“You’ve got to be able to adapt,” Smith told RUGBY.com.au.

“You can’t hide the fact that I’m 36 - if I was able to go back to Tonga to change my birth certificate, I would.It's been a slow start to 2017 for George Smith and the Reds. Photo: Getty Images“I see things differently than how I did in the past, that’s how I’ve been able to go for this long, I think.

“Whether that’s knowing when to hit a breakdown and wasting energy rather than setting the defensive line, for me, it’s about finding the right balance.

At 36, Smith is on the other side of the hill.

He maintains that he is playing better rugby than ever before but he has been brought to Ballymore to nurture the next generation of Reds.

Adam Korczyk, Lukhan Tui, Michael Gunn and Reece Hewat are just three of the young, burgeoning back rowers that Smith has been charged with teaching right from wrong in the dark arts of breakdown play.

Smith is back at GIO Stadium tonight for the first time since his 2013 cameo. Photo: Getty ImagesHis weekly pay packet is as much for that tutelage as it is for his on-field performances.

“I think the foundations of a really good squad are here, they were built in the pre-season,” Smith said.

“For me, I understand that coming into a team with very little knowledge of how the group and how they play, it was always going to be a question of how it would gel.

“I understood that it would take a bit for me to fit into the team and I feel like over the last couple of weeks I have found my place here.

“We just have to be honest as a team first and foremost and we have to be honest with ourselves about our performances.Smith in action for Suntory in Japan. Photo: Getty Images”No matter how you slice it, Smith is Australia’s greatest ever openside flanker.

He has won every individual accolade Australian rugby has to offer, Super Rugby titles, Bledisloe Cups and Tri Nations titles.

Add that to 111 Wallabies caps and over 140 Super Rugby caps, and there is a resume that is insurmountable.

Smith knows what it takes to achieve both team and individual success - something Reds fans crave after a stretch of seasons deprived of wins.Can Smith guide the Reds back to the top of Australian rugby? Photo: Getty Images“I think the Queensland rugby public expect great things from the players and I fully expect that this group will fulfil that,” Smith said.“I think we will because I know the players have those same expectations of ourselves."

The Reds need to hit reset on their season when they run onto GIO Stadium to take on the Brumbies tonight.

Most experts and bookies alike have written the Reds off but Smith is as good a rugby judge as any and he firmly believes it would be silly to write the Reds off, particularly with the way the Australian Conference has shaped up.

“We are capable of playing some really good rugby and I think you will see that over the next couple of weeks,” he said.

“Don’t write us off yet.”

The Reds take on the Brumbies at GIO Stadium in Canberra tonight, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS and RUGBY.com.au.

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