George Smith bows out gracefully
George Smith's illustrious provincial career ended in defeat in the Super Rugby final in Hamilton.
SYDNEY - George Smith's provincial career ended in defeat in the Super Rugby final in Hamilton on Saturday, but his legacy as one of the greatest openside flankers to have played the game remained intact.
The 33-year-old was again a huge presence at the breakdown in his 142nd and final Super Rugby match, even if his efforts could not stop the Waikato Chiefs from overhauling the ACT Brumbies to retain the title with a 27-22 victory.
Brought back to Australia as injury cover at the start of the season, Smith had played a major role in getting the Brumbies to the final with a Man of the Match performance in the semi-final win over the Bulls in Pretoria.
Ultimately, the fatigue of the long journey to South Africa and back followed by the shorter trip across the Tasman Sea probably played a part in denying the Brumbies and Smith a third Super Rugby title after 2001 and 2004.
"I felt for George, he's phenomenal," Brumbies coach Jake White said after the match.
"We were talking about how outstanding he was at Loftus (Versfeld) last week and then he's been able to back it up again tonight.
"We would have liked to have sent him out with a trophy but I guess that's not the way it's going to be."
World Cup-winning Springboks coach White had repeated several times this week that, having coached against and now worked with the loose forward, he regarded Smith as one of rugby's greatest players.
A measure of his impact for the Brumbies this season came when Robbie Deans brought him back into the Wallabies team to win his 111th test cap in the third test against the British and Irish Lions last month.
That his brief return to test rugby ended in a heavy defeat to the tourists had not diminished Smith's enjoyment of his Indian summer.
"It's been amazing. I've absolutely loved every moment playing with the Brumbies and the one-off chance to play with the Wallabies," Smith told Sky TV after Saturday's defeat.
"I've always regarded the Brumbies as family. I felt at home when I did arrive back and I'm very grateful for the Brumbies fans and the Brumbies organisation for welcoming me. I've had a great time."
While White has not ruled out trying to lure Smith back from Japan next season, Smith said Saturday would be his last for the Canberra-based team.
His test career is also highly unlikely to be extended either, with new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie giving a curt "no" when asked whether he had considered Smith for his Rugby Championship squad.
As modest off the pitch as he is combative on it, Smith admitted considering whether a return to top class southern hemisphere rugby might end up tarnishing his career.
"I don't think I have harmed it in any way," Smith said on the eve of the final. "It was something I was tossing around when I decided to come back.
"I'm very happy with the way I played. In terms of me leaving a good legacy with the Brumbies, I think I have."