George Smith, the Australia flanker, looks set for a lucrative move to Europe or Japan after surprisingly retiring from international rugby yesterday. The 110-cap back-row forward has requested an early end to his Australian Rugby Union contract to explore other options and will also be released by the CA Brumbies when the Super 14 season finishes at the end of May - a year ahead of the scheduled conclusion of his deal.
A host of French and English clubs will be queuing up to sign the 29-year-old who could also link up with Eddie Jones, the former Wallaby and Brumbies coach, at Suntory Sungoliath in Japan. Smith is known to have not enjoyed his rugby recently, particularly at international level where he found himself dropped for the Bledisloe Cup match with New Zealand in October. "Although I believe that I could play competitive rugby at the highest level and contribute to the Wallabies for many years to come, I know in my heart that this is the right time to step aside," said Smith.
Meanwhile, Brian O'Driscoll will lead Ireland into today's Six Nations opener against Italy warning his teammates they must continue to evolve if they are to retain their title. Ireland won their first Grand Slam title in 61 years last season but Declan Kidney's side showed only glimpses of the buccaneering rugby they are capable of producing. O'Driscoll, the centre, believes the win will liberate Ireland, but also realises that failing to improve will result in ruin.
"There's an element of the monkey now being off our back, but that's come and gone," he said. "We've spoken about expectations and we know we can't remain stagnant, otherwise other teams will pass us by." * With agencies