Deans will consider Smith for Lions tests if he’s eligible
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans will consider selecting George Smith for the British and Irish Lions series later this year if the 110-cap forward’s eligibility is resolved, the New Zealander said on Wednesday.
Former test captain Smith has been in spectacular form at openside flanker for the Canberra-based ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby this year after returning to Australia from playing in France and Japan.
Deans had earlier said the 32-year-old was not under consideration, largely because he was still under contract to Japanese club Suntory and therefore ineligible under Australian Rugby Union (ARU) rules.
Brumbies coach Jake White is now seeking to extend the player’s loan from Japan, however, and Deans said that would open the door for a Wallabies return.
“If the Brumbies seek permission, that’s the logical progression for sure,” Deans told Reuters by telephone.
“It’s always good to have a longer queue of players, there’s no doubt about that, so it would be great to be able to consider him.”
If Smith were to make the Wallabies team for the three matches against the Lions in June and July, he would be facing the tourists in a second series having played in all three of the matches in Australia’s 2-1 win in 2001.
“(Experience) is a valuable asset in cauldrons like Lions series, they are the reason the word cauldron developed,” Deans said.
Calls for Smith’s recall have intensified since the hammer blow of a season-ending knee injury to his Brumbies team mate and the man who replaced him in the Wallabies number seven shirt, David Pocock.
“David’s been an integral part of our programme for a long time now, which is remarkable for such a young player,” Deans said of the 24-year-old.
“And he is a remarkable player. He’s had his share of misfortune. It’s a tough pill for him to swallow. Really tough for him and it’s not ideal for us, clearly.”
Deans said he was disappointed by the involvement of Wallabies Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna in an altercation on the Melbourne Rebels team bus last weekend, which led to both players being sent home from South Africa.
The players also face disciplinary action from the ARU and Beale, who finished last season playing at flyhalf for the Wallabies, would be a big loss to Australia should he be handed a long ban.
“It’s stuff obviously that we could do without,” Deans said. “What players have to understand, when you compromise people, particularly yourself, you get yourself into a circumstance where you can’t control your destiny.
“That’s the key to mastering your habits so you don’t leave your destiny in other people’s hands. The process will run its course and clearly there will be consequences.
“The Wallabies and the game will have to live with that.”
New Zealand’s Chris Pollock, South African Craig Joubert and France’s Romain Poite were named on Tuesday as the referees for the three Lions tests.
Deans said they were the best officials from the neutral nations.
“They’re all experienced refs, which is great because that is what we’ll need,” he said.
“It’s going to be a very intense series, it’s going to be very physical and just as the decision-making for the playing group will be important, the decision-making of the adjudicators will be important.”