Smith in form will be too tempting for Deans
March 3, 2013
When George Smith played his farewell match in May 2010 many thought it was too early for him to leave Australia. © Getty Images
You can bet your outhouse on it. If George Smith of 110 Tests fame shows any semblance of form in his return to the Brumbies, Robbie Deans will rush him into the Wallabies squad to confront the Lions.
That may sound strange, considering the Wallabies have a glut of competent openside flankers, led by David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Liam Gill. But rest assured Deans will pick Smith if his 32-year-old legs still have a bit of bounce left in them, because the Wallabies coach has discovered the hard way that experience is best.
Don't be surprised if Smith appears in a jersey which no-one has been able to make their own - the No.8 Test jumper. Stranger things have happened, and Deans, during his topsy turvy six years in charge of the Wallabies, has certainly made more decidedly odd selection choices.
Deans has found out that while a youth policy can revitalise an outfit, it also has its many pitfalls. It has even led to a division within the Wallabies playing ranks, which Deans is still struggling to heal. It is no secret that some Wallabies members have lost their faith in the head coach, due to what they perceive as favouritism towards certain 'chosen one' squad members.
It all revolves around Deans placing so much belief in a group of young players, as he thought they could provide a difference when confronting the All Blacks and Springboks. Not surprisingly he pursued the three Amigos - James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper - and for a time they invigorated the Wallabies.
However it involved baggage. While their on-field talents are lush, off-field they can be as difficult to contain, and that has led to never-ending problems. While Cooper and Beale have had their ongoing dramas with the law, O'Connor showed what a mess it all was when he failed to front at the Wallabies World Cup squad announcement at Sydney Airport in 2011 after a big night.
This was a highly embarrassing moment for the Wallabies, infuriating numerous teammates. Not helping the situation was that O'Connor's punishment was so lenient, with a $10,000 suspended fine and a one-match ban little more than a light blow made with a piece of balsa wood.
As expected, and with good reason, several senior players began to say privately that the young guns were a protected species. As well the old guard believed they were being neglected by the Deans regime, which has at times been brutal with senior playing staff members. Deans also soon discovered that those with rampant egos kept letting him down, even in the case of Cooper going public about his concerns about the direction of the Wallabies.
In the end, Deans has had to back-track and go on bended knees, pleading for help from the veterans, because simply the new brigade hasn't been up to it.
The classic case is Nathan Sharpe. Early on in Deans' reign, it appeared that Sharpe would only be an occasional Wallaby. Deans was interested in other locks, in particular Dan Vickerman and some younger alternatives. Deans even overlooked him for a trip to South Africa, which the Force captain didn't take too kindly to.
However as countless raw lock contenders were tried and found short of the mark, Deans had to last year send out an SOS call to Sharpe. In the end, he even captained the Wallabies, to the surprise of some onlookers. Probably the most shocked was Sharpe. But Sharpe did what was required in a time of need, reminding everyone that reliability is a far better asset than brashness.
One George Smith was another who didn't think he had much of a future with Deans, especially as the Pocock push had begun in earnest. Not surprisingly, Smith headed overseas. He's now back for a short term. But Deans could make it long term, because he knows that in a crisis, unlike some others, you can depend on Smith getting the job done.
© ESPN Australia/New Zealand
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker