If you’re a young, up-and-coming flanker, there’s probably only one name on your wishlist of current Australian opensides that you would give anything to train alongside - Smith, G.
Queensland Reds and Brisbane City openside Michael Gunn found himself in that very position at the start of the 2017 season and he admits it’s been pretty hard not to pick up tips from the former Wallabies breakdown master.
“Yeah, it’s awesome, it’s really good,” Gunn told RUGBY.com.au this week.
“He does these little ‘masterclass’ sessions with us, where he shows us drills that he’s picked up over the years, just for five or ten minutes at the end of a Reds session.”
“And he’s just genuinely a good bloke, like you can talk to him about anything with him."I’ll talk about footy with him all the time, but then he also lives where I grew up in Brisbane, so we’ll talk about that. He’s just a really good bloke.”
When his stunning return to Super Rugby with the Reds was announced, Smith said he wanted to pass on what he’s learned to the next wave of young flankers.
And to their credit, the young Reds have been hitting him with questions to sponge up everything they possibly can.
“He’s such a good resource for us at the Reds, but at the same time he welcomes our questions, he’s also really forward about it all and it shows in those masterclass sessions,” Gunn said.
“There’s certain things that he’ll say around technique that just make a lot of sense, but it’s comforting when you sort of half know what you’ve done wrong and you ask him, and he confirms that, or reinforces what you were thinking.
“There’s been times around pilfering technique, where you know you could do better, and talking it all through with him just reinforces what you already know.And he can add it bit to it, as well, he’s a good bloke like that.”
The Smith masterclasses have involved insights in the ‘dark arts’ of the breakdown, too.
“Yeah, not only is he a physical player, but he’s a very smart player as well. Yeah, he’s good to have around,” he laughs.
Clearly, it’s all been working for the City number seven.
After a very stop-start 2016 season in and out of the Super Rugby squad, Gunn was last week awarded the Alec Evans Medal for Queensland Premier Rugby Player of the Year, recognition of his standout performances for Easts throughout 2017.
He’s followed that through to the NRC, too, and his name has featured prominently in RUGBY.com.au NRC Team of the Week discussions over the last month, especially.“In the last half of last season, I sort of wasn’t able to string too many games together, having one foot in the Reds camp, and then I played seven games off the bench in the NRC, but I just hadn’t played enough footy to make an impact,” Gunn said of his 2016 season.
“This year I played 13 out of 16 games for Easts here in Brisbane, and I’ve played all but two half games in the NRC.
“I feel like I’m playing well. I’ve had a few discussions around that, but I think it’s a result of having played so much footy.
"At club level, I’ve just had that many minutes that it’s just coming naturally.
“I do feel like I’ve hit my stride in the last month, or I should hope so. But it’s been nice to hear that, yeah.”
Gunn admitted last weekend’s loss to the Greater Sydney Rams had stung the City side “big time”, and that if they repeat that performance this weekend against NSW Country they “will only make it harder for ourselves.”
What that loss has left Brisbane City with is a scenario that exactly mirrors that of their opponents this weekend.
They’ll face off with NSW Country in Orange, in central-western NSW, for essentially the same place in the NRC top four.
If either side win, they’ll finish in the top four, and even as high as third if the Fijian Drua happen to drop another home game to the Sydney Rays.
For the loser, however, they could finish as low as seventh.
Gunn says that’s a positive for City, in that they don’t have worry about complex formulas or anything.
“There’s no point over-complicating it in any competition - you just need to win,” he said.
“The Eagles obviously play a lot of running footy, and they have done for a few years.
“But, honestly, we’re going to have to look at ourselves after the weekend, and the focus will have to be on how we play.
"There will be ways we can exploit them, but the focus will be on how we play, and I just reckon that’s a better mentality to have going into the weekend.
“The best thing we can do is win with a bonus point and it’ll pan out how it pans out over the rest of the weekend.”