There could be a fairytale ending after all for one of international rugby's stalwarts following George Smith's selection for series-deciding third test between the Wallabies and British and Irish Lions in Sydney tomorrow night.
Less than 24 hours after Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll - the only other survivor from the epic clash between the two sides in 2001 - was dropped by Warren Gatland, Smith was named on the openside flank for his first since retiring after the Wallabies triumphed in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in 2009.
Smith's 111th and presumably final cap is also his first game since the 32-year-old suffered a knee injury while playing for the Brumbies against the Waratahs in mid-May.
While sympathising with O'Driscoll's omission, Smith was delighted to revive his test career, a distant prospect when he was playing for Suntory in Japan six months ago.
Astutely brought back to Canberra by Jake White in February, Smith filled in for the Wallabies first-choice openside David Pocock when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in early March.
And once he recovered from his own setback Wallabies coach Robbie Deans had no hesitation in adding the veteran to his squad, and then run-on side.
Smith starts in place of the benched Michael Hooper while Liam Gill drops out of the 23-man squad.
"In terms of rugby it's the ultimate for me. To be selected within the starting XV for this decider there's nothing higher for me at the moment," said Smith as he sat alongside Hooper yesterday.
Smith is the first player in the professional era to play the Lions twice and he revisited the Wallabies 2-1 series win over the Graham Henry-coached side 12 years ago when reflecting on his longevity.
"It was very much a blur for me," he said.
"I was very young, I'd only played three tests. I didn't know the magnitude of the British Lions or the series but I was led extremely well by senior players within that team."
Smith now assumes that mantle as a veteran and despite not having played for six weeks he was confident of handling the opposition - and atmosphere - at ANZ Stadium.
"In my mind there's no doubt. I've played a variety of different styles of game. I've played a very high intensity running game in Japan, very physically demanding game in France. I've come to Super Rugby, I was nervous in the first game, then I was very comfortable.
"I don't think it'll be unnerving, it'll be an adrenalin pumping experience, one I haven't experienced for a long time."
Smith returns to Japan later this month, ruling him out of the Rugby Championship, and although tomorrow night is scripted as his swan song, Deans was not entirely convinced.
When asked if this would be his last test, Smith said: "I'm pretty sure it will be. No, it will be.
"I've had a fantastic international career and knowing when to bow out and I'm very proud of the legacy I've left behind on the international stage.
"This just caps it off. It will be fitting for my career to look back on and say I've finished on a great occasion, a big moment."
Deans, meanwhile, floated the possibility of one of Australian rugby's most durable characters being involved in the 2015 World Cup.
"I've encouraged him never to retire. He's shown he's lasting well, he's perfectly capable of playing in 2015. How old's Brad Thorn?" said Deans referring to the 38-year-old former All Blacks lock who remains active.
Smith revealed he was considering making a comeback at the 2011 World Cup but the initiative never quite got across the line.
"There was a moment where there was an opportunity to play but my circumstances were different and so were the Wallabies," he said, confirming Deans had broached the possibility.
"We were very excited about he and David Pocock working in tandem but it wasn't to be," confirmed Deans.
- Fairfax Media
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