Aviva Premiership: George Smith admits Wasps admiration
Australia's most-capped forward excited to join the Ricoh Arena outfit this summer after spells in Japan and France
George Smith admits he is an admirer of Wasps’ European exploits as he prepares to join the club this summer.
The 34-year-old Australian back-row forward, who is in the Barbarians squad to take on an England XV later this week, will make the move to the Aviva Premiership after a third spell in France’s Top 14, joining a growing number of players to be sold on the club’s ambitions to become a force in European rugby again.
It’s clear from developments on and off the field this season that Wasps are a very progressive and ambitious club, who are determined to get back to the top of the European game.
It may seem like a long time since the glory years under Warren Gatland before he and assistant coach Shaun Edwards departed to take control of the Wales national team, but the achievements still resonate with the Wallabies veteran.
“I am very excited to be joining Wasps,” Smith said.
“I have always admired their history in Europe and it’s clear from developments on and off the field this season that Wasps are a very progressive and ambitious club, who are determined to get back to the top of the European game.
“I have really enjoyed the experience of playing in France, Japan and Australia and I am extremely motivated to test myself in the Aviva Premiership.
“Wasps have a really exciting group of young and talented players and I hope to be able to use my experience to help develop that talent.”
With the Rugby World Cup causing a delayed start to the Aviva Premiership campaign for 2015/16, Wasps director of rugby Dai Young has regularly highlighted the need for increased strength in depth to cope with the additional demands of a shortened domestic season.
He will be a fantastic professional for our young back-rowers to learn from, on and off the field, and I am sure their games will continue to develop significantly playing alongside him.
Dai Young on George Smith
They rarely come stronger and more experienced than the Sydney-born Rugby World Cup finalist with 111 international caps to his name, who made his name in Australia with the Brumbies, before spells in France with Toulon, Stade Français and Lyon, and spells in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath.
Born in Sydney, Smith started his career with the Brumbies, playing Super Rugby for 11 years, before moving to France, then Japan and returning to Australia in 2013, before moving to Lyon last year. Smith’s last appearance for the Wallabies came in July 2013 against the British and Irish Lions.
Wasps have already announced a raft of new players for 2015/16 including outside-half Jimmy Gopperth and centre Brendan Macken from Leinster and Frank Halai from the Blues, while a number of key names already at the club have signed up to contract extensions.
But Director of rugby Dai Young believes that Smith’s arrival at the Ricoh Arena at the age of 34 will be huge benefit to the club next season as they look to challenge for Premiership and European honours.
“George Smith is one of the greats of his generation,” Young said.
“To be able to add a player of his international experience and quality is a real coup for Wasps.
“Despite being 34 years old, he has shown through his form at Lyon this season that he is still one of the sharpest operators in the game.
“He is in tremendous shape and his reading of the game and winning mentality should benefit Wasps hugely next season.
“We have a very strong back row already, but with Ashley Johnson’s transition to hooker for the long-term and a relatively young back row grouping, we are really pleased to be able to make the addition of a top-level player like George.
“He will be a fantastic professional for our young back-rowers to learn from, on and off the field, and I am sure their games will continue to develop significantly playing alongside him.
“We learnt this year, that competing at the sharp-end of the Aviva Premiership and in the latter stages of the European Champions Cup requires real depth and experience to the squad.
“We have incredible natural talent within our ranks and some of the most exciting attacking threats in the Premiership, but many of our young players are still learning their trade. George has been there and done it.
“As a player, he has that hard, abrasive edge you need in a team, as well as years of experience of winning big trophies and tight games to draw on, when we are hopefully competing at the top end of the table again next season.”