Superb Smith still Suntory bound
George Smith's stunning form has left Wallaby international Liam Gill 'nervous' ahead of their Super Rugby clash this weekend, but the British and Irish Lions have little to fear with the veteran flanker likely to remain ineligible for internationals.
The 110-cap Smith, a former Wallabies captain, has excelled as the ACT Brumbies have surged to the top of the Super Rugby standings with the Canberra side in discussions about possibly extending the 32-year-old's short loan deal from Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath.
The Super Rugby grand final takes place on August 3 but Smith's last match for the Brumbies is scheduled to be against the Hurricanes on May 31.
Brumbies coach Jake White said talks had taken place with Suntory officials after Smith's try-scoring display as the Brumbies clinically dispatched the Highlanders on Friday but that he was aware of the August 18 start of the Japanese season.
"Don't forget they love the fact that Suntory get some mileage and Japanese rugby gets some mileage," the South African told Australian media on Monday.
"So I'm sure if we find a way in which we can keep him fresh and give him enough time to play and make sure he's 100 percent ready for their season... I'm sure that they would look at accommodating us."
After nine rounds of play, the Brumbies look good to feature in the knockout stages as they hold a two-point lead over the Queensland Reds in the Australian conference.
Their rise to the summit has come despite losing world class openside David Pocock to a serious knee injury in round four but Smith has filled the void superbly, leading to calls among fans and media for a return to the international fold.
The Brumbies head to Brisbane on Saturday for a big test of their title credentials and Smith's displays have left opposite number Gill concerned.
"I'm excited about the opportunity, he's arguably one of the best flankers the world has seen," the 20-year-old told Australian media.
"I'm nervous about coming up against him, but in the same sense very excited."
But while Smith remains a Suntory player, Lions coach Warren Gatland and his soon-to-be-named squad will not have to worry about the possibility of facing the flanker in the tourists three tests against the Wallabies in June and July.
Smith, who played against the Lions 12 years ago, is ineligible for selection as a foreign-based player with Gill and 21-year-old Michael Hooper named as the two openside flankers in coach Robbie Deans' preliminary 30-man squad.
Deans will name a 31-man test squad on June 11 and Reds coach Ewan McKenzie said it would be wrong to make Smith an exception to the rule and include him for the series.
"We're talking about the Lions series but if you open the door then he's got to be a available for the (Rugby Championship) and the northern hemisphere tour so you can't just cherry pick your way through it," the outgoing coach said.
One man almost certain to play against the Lions, however, is utility back James O'Connor.
The Melbourne Rebel has played in a variety of roles for club and country but said that Deans had told him that flyhalf or wing was where he was most likely to feature in future.
"I feel very comfortable in both those positions," the 22-year-old said.
Controversial flyhalf Quade Cooper was left out of Deans' initial squad but the Queensland Reds ace demonstrated his abundance of talent as he helped his side to a 31-23 away win over the Super Rugby champion Waikato Chiefs on Friday.
"Others have been good at reading and judging. We're happy with his game management and always have been," McKenzie said of his playmaker.