George Smith reigns as prince of flankers
July 29, 2013
George Smith remains the best pilferer in the game © Getty Images
One of the most depressing sights - and there were many - during the final Australia-British & Irish Lions Test was that of George Smith finishing his illustrious Wallabies career when he was clearly in la-la land. After appearing as if he had been knocked out early in the game, the Wallabies staff allowed the lolly-legged Smith back onto the field. It was not the way anyone wanted to observe easily the best Wallabies openside flanker I have seen finish off in the green-and-gold colours; on return, Smith was way off his game.
Former Wallabies forward Peter FitzSimons was scathing about the incident, describing the decision to allow Smith to play again after just five minutes as a "disgrace". It was, and hopefully the International Rugby Board will be more stringent in stopping obviously concussed players from returning to the field.
Thankfully, due to the Brumbies' advancement to next the Super Rugby final, Smith's Sydney "snake dance" won't be the farewell memory of his days in Australian rugby. Instead it could involve the ultimate season-ender - being part of only the fourth Australian team to win a Super Rugby trophy, and the third time he has been a member of a Brumbies tournament triumph.
With Smith in such impeccable form, a Brumbies victory is feasible even though the task involves the most exasperating and mind sapping of travel schedules - to and from South Africa and now off to the North Island of New Zealand. By next Sunday, the Brumbies won't know whether they're Arthur or Martha. But it won't matter, as they will have weeks after the final to get over their jet-lag.
Smith has been the mastermind of numerous Brumbies victories since first appearing for the province in 2000, and his memorable appearances are endless. And for those who believe the effectiveness of a fetcher diminishes as he approaches the dreaded 30-year-old mark, Smith has defied all; at 33, he's having an exceptional season comparable to, or even better than, any other.
Great players - as long as they are in control of all their faculties - excel in the big moments; and that was certainly the case with Smith at Loftus Versfeld. So much for altitude sapping the body; it didn't have any effect on Smith, who was the master controller at the breakdown, pilfering endless ball, and being so animated on the defensive line, especially in the final minutes when the Bulls opted against penalty goals and thought rolling mauls from a successful lineout was the way to blow the Brumbies away.
The Brumbies stunned the Bulls in Pretoria (video available only in Australia)
Under enormous stress, the Brumbies' defence held firm. In the end, the only mistake in Smith's game was his stumble when taking a quick tap: it was a forgivable blemish, as otherwise Smith had close to the perfect performance to claim yet another man-of-the-match award.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen made a very important comment when he explained after the win how his squad was proud of their fitness level. Their focus on conditioning certainly worked in Pretoria as, unlike numerous Australian teams that have fallen away in the final quarter of games at altitude in South Africa, they were at their peak in the final 15 minutes.
The physical demands will be even higher when the Brumbies confront the Chiefs. The Chiefs-Crusaders semi-final was a spectacular occasion - one of the best rugby advertisements for some time - with both teams performing at a frenetic pace. While the skill level of both teams was exceptional, so furious was the action that you sometimes had to double-check you hadn't accidentally hit the fast-forward button on your television remote control.
The accelerator eased off in the Bulls-Brumbies semi, which as expected turned into a kick-fest. The Brumbies' game plan, focusing on territory and kicking virtually everything out of their own half, is precise; let's just say the Chiefs know exactly what to expect from their final opponents.
Understandably the Chiefs will be final favourite, their biggest asset being they are a considerably more dangerous counter-attacking team than the Bulls; they will relish the extra possession that will come from the ball regularly rebounded back to them by Jesse Mogg, Matt Toomua, Nic White and co. But with "King George" at the helm, and the Pretoria triumph proving they have the required bulldog spirit, the Brumbies are far from a lost cause.
Follow live text commentary of the Super Rugby semi-final between the Chiefs and the Brumbies on Saturday, August, from 7pm (NZT), 5pm (EST), 7am (GMT)
George Smith takes 140 caps worth of Super Rugby experience to the final © Getty Images
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