Australia had a generation of players who seemed impervious to injury around the turn of the millennium, with George Smith plucked from club rugby by Eddie Jones perhaps the hardest among them.
If Richie McCaw has become the benchmark for openside flanking, Smith was probably the player who was the first true long-lasting openside superstar of the professional era, forever winning turnovers from impossible situations and ceaselessly running, tackling and rucking for his team.
Also showing remarkable longevity considering the physical demands of his position, Smith retired in 2019, just shy of his 39th birthday after a remarkable 20-season career.
A greater Sydney native, Smith, born in Manly to an Australian father and Tongan mother, was educated at Balgowlah Boys’ High School and Cromer High School, both of whom he represented at rugby with aplomb, as well as spending time at Tupou College in Tonga.
He played most of his junior club rugby for Manly before eventually progressing through the ranks to their senior side at the age of just 18. By that time he had also cracked the Australia Schoolboys team and several representative sides but it was not until the age of 19 that he was picked up by Jones to play for the Brumbies and a team featuring many of Australia’s finest emerging talents. He won the Brumbies‘ Player of the Year award in eight of his 12 seasons there, playing key roles in their 2001 and 2004 Super Rugby triumphs.
After retiring from international rugby in 2010 he headed to France, where he played for Toulon and Stade Francais, before returning to the Brumbies for two more years.
He also played in increasingly mentoring and impact roles for Lyon, Suntory in Japan, Queensland Reds, Wasps and Bristol before finally retiring in 2019.
Smith made his Wallabies debut against France in Paris in 2000, winning an astonishing 110 Tests in 10 seasons thereafter. He could have gone on to set a record for Test appearances that might never have been broken, but wanted to let emerging players have more of a chance. He was the youngest-ever Test centurion and played in two Rugby World Cups.
Rarely can a player have played so many Tests in which he emerged as a dominant and decisive force; so much so that it is tough to remember any single benchmark performance.
⭐️ Legendary @wallabies status
5️⃣ Top 5 RWC moments for Australia stalwart and icon George Smith
Got a favourite? 👇 pic.twitter.com/8cCFN5zh2F
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) December 17, 2020
On the occasion of his retirement, most of his peers recited the same sentence: he was that player who was always playing at eight or nine out of ten and who you could always rely upon to have a good game and make good decisions at the right times.
Most were staggered he ended his career so early, but in 2013, with the Lions in town and Australia struggling, Smith answered the call to win one more cap for his country; that he was called up after such a long hiatus is testament to his standing.
Smith is married to Louisa and has four children, Wyatt, Soleil, Ryker and Lafaele. His brother Tyrone was also a Brumbies player and has represented Tonga at rugby league. He currently coaches in Japan.
No information is publicly available.