MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Flanker George Smith said he was fit and ready to play against the British and Irish Lions and thought Australia were the better team in the first test despite their defeat in Brisbane on Saturday.
Smith, a veteran of 110 tests and Australia’s victorious 2001 series against the Lions, has joined the squad for the second test as cover after the Wallabies suffered a string of injuries in Saturday’s 23-21 loss at Lang Park.
“I was watching the game like a lot of rugby fans and sporting fans as a spectator, very anxious in the living room watching them play,” the 32-year-old told reporters in Melbourne.
”I wasn’t watching the technical aspects of it but the way the Wallabies played was fantastic.
”I thought they were the better team on that night. It was heartbreaking to lose that match, (given) I’ve come so close (to selection).
“I’ve seen the resolve in the players last night when I came here. I think the guys have parked that match and are very excited about the match coming up here in Melbourne.”
Smith would have been in the Wallabies squad but suffered an untimely knee injury on the eve of its announcement while playing with Super Rugby side ACT Brumbies.
Brumbies coach Jake White last week said Smith was highly unlikely to recover in time for the second test, but the flanker swept aside any doubts.
“Definitely, I wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to be here if it wasn‘t,” he said, when asked whether his knee was ready to be tested by the Lions.
“The past five weeks I’ve had quite an intense training programme ... I‘m ready to go if given the opportunity to play,” he added.
“I feel like the five weeks off has been a blessing in disguise ... I feel mentally refreshed.”
Smith, who retired from international rugby in 2010 after a glittering career, slotted into the Brumbies lineup earlier this year with aplomb after flying in from playing club rugby in Japan.
Fully fit, Smith would be a tempting selection for Australia coach Robbie Deans, who had Michael Hooper starting at openside and another 21-year-old in Liam Gill coming off the bench.
Both Hooper and Gill had acquitted themselves well in the first test, said Smith, who was not keen to speculate on his chances of selection.
He was also reluctant to reminisce too much about Australia’s 2-1 series win of 12 years ago, when they overhauled the Lions after dropping the first match in Brisbane.
”The tight jerseys,“ Smith quipped when asked about how the respective tours differed. ”The fashion has changed - and the shorts as well.
”Obviously, I’ve changed a lot in terms of physically, my age as well, but my determination and passion for the Wallabies hasn’t changed.
”To be involved in the squad and meet new players and old friends is fantastic, but I know there’s a huge job for the Wallabies to do this weekend.
“The players with me in this squad are making their own history and hopefully they can do it and win this weekend.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney