Major teams: Brumbies, Toulon, Suntory Goliath, Stade Français, Lyon, Wasps, Queensland Reds, Bristol
Position: Openside flanker
Test span: 2000-13
Test caps: 111 (93 starts)
Test points: 45 (9T)
Rugby’s Greatest: George Smith
In the wake of an agonising 27-22 defeat to the Chiefs in the 2013 Super 15 final, Brumbies coach Jake White saluted George Smith.
“He’s a phenomena,” said the South African. It was easy to forgive the grammatical error. Over the years, Smith has certainly seemed like a plural form. Besides anything else, he has almost single-handedly altered the breakdown landscape.
Signed by Eddie Jones to the Brumbies, he stormed onto the Super Rugby scene as a dreadlocked 20-year-old in 2000, making his debut against the Sharks and scoring a try in the final as the Crusaders won 20-19.
A senior cap in France followed and 11 months on, the British & Irish Lions were Down Under. Smith’s reputation rocketed. The openside hauled Australia back into contention after defeat in the first Test, celebrating his 21st birthday with a Man of the Match display in the series-sealing victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Smith’s innovative ability to support his own bodyweight, latch onto ball and snaffle possession at tackle situations was an indelible feature of the Brumbies’ Super Rugby win later that year too, and individual prizes mounted up. Nine Brett Robinson Awards for Brumbies players’ player supplemented two John Eales Medals.
Smith then took his talents globetrotting with Toulon, Japanese outfit Suntory Goliath and Stade Français. Tempted back to Australia when the Lions toured in 2013, he starred for the Brumbies, clinching a tenth Brett Robinson gong and earning an 111th outing against Warren Gatland’s men. This would be his last appearance for the country.
The Wallabies were whacked 41-16 in that decider and Smith received a sickening head knock when colliding with Welsh hooker Richard Hibbard.
However, this was not farewell for one of the most durable figures in the professional era. Smith joined Lyon in the Top 14, demonstrating versatility across the back row in a campaign that ended in relegation and impressing enough for Wasps to bring him over the Channel for the 2015-16 season.
There was still time for stints at the Reds and Bristol, where he finally brought the curtain down on his stellar career at the age of 38 in May 2019. In his 2019 autobiography, Eddie Jones called him the greatest player that he has ever coached.