After the Super 15 final the Brumbies coach Jake White said of George Smith, “He’s a phenomena.”
That sounds about right. It just wouldn’t be enough to call Smith a phenomenon – George of the Jungle has 111 caps for Australia, he has more miles between tests against the Lions than any other player, he was the Brumbies player of the year for a staggering eight consecutive seasons and to any fair-minded judge he was the man of the match in this year’s Super 15 final at the good old age of 33.Yep, George is a phenomena, plural.“He’s still the best,” said Tanerau Latimer after the final.
At the end of the match Smith was still going strong in what turned out to be a losing cause, although you could not have convinced him of that. In quick succession he cleaned out three Chiefs at the ruck, generally holding onto them after the act to prevent them from recovering a defensive position.Smith – we’re in the 78th minute here – then received a dreadful pass on his toes, picked it up cleanly, stepped, straightened and turned bad ball into good.The Brumbies coughed that possession up and so Smith got them going again. As the Chiefs tried to run down the clock, Latimer, with Sam Cane on his shoulder, drove at the old warrior. Smith stepped in, inviting contact, then stepped back at the last moment, leaving Latimer and Cane to drive into a void and collapse in a heap.“Penalty, not staying on feet,” said Joubert, as Smith had ‘em all fooled again.
Oh, the wool he has pulled over the eyes of referees, you could knit the world a jumper.Time and again Smith invited the Chiefs to drive and then Smith would disengage, and sneak round the back claiming that no ruck and maul had formed. Time and again he cleaned out ahead of the Brumbies ball carrier, leaving great holes for his team to attack.But when Smith cheats, which like most world class flankers is most of the time, he does it with such softness that refs are beguiled. There was a moment when he was holding Liam Messam ahead of the ball and then put his hands in the air as if to indicate it was all a terrible accident. When the Brumbies was hammering at the line George Gently was lying ‘unintentionally’ on top of both Messam and Latimer.
But how can you not admire a man who keeps going and going with such courage. When a long range penalty fell short near the end of the first half, it was Smith who was first there to put pressure on the clearing kick. He pinched a Chiefs lineout. He smashed into big Brodie Retallick, another hit made more valuable by his superb timing at sneaking up over the defensive gain line. And at the end, as time ran out, Smith was still hitting the ball up for the team he calls ‘family’. When the final whistle went, Smith was in a heap. He slowly got to one knee, as if praying for another five minutes, another lease of life to save the match.
The loyal Chiefs crowd saluted a warrior, a man who once cut off his dreadlocks to raise money for young people with cancer.George Smith continues to be an inspiration to us all.