George Smith confident of speedy return - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

George Smith confident of speedy return

By Adrian Warren 22/03/2010 08:41:49 PM Comments (0)

George Smith insists he hasn't played his last Super rugby game, as the Brumbies prepare to blood their highly-rated 18-year-old flanker Michael Hooper against the Chiefs in Canberra on Friday.

Smith, 29, will end a run of 59 straight games stretching back to 2005 by missing the Chiefs match with shoulder nerve damage.

He suffered the injury in last Friday's loss to the Blues in Auckland.

Smith, who has already announced he will be leaving the Brumbies at the end of this season, hosed down reports he might have played his last game for the franchise for whom he has won eight player-of-the-year awards.

Having suffered a similar injury before, Smith was aiming to return for the April 10 home clash with the Cheetahs.

With a bye to come between the fixtures against the Chiefs and Cheetahs, Smith was hoping to miss just a single match.

"I'm definitely confident I haven't played my last game (for the Brumbies)," Smith told reporters on Monday.

"I've had a nerve injury before in the past and came back relatively quick in terms of that regenerating, the medical staff are doing great things with me and I will be doing my utmost best and everything possible to get back," Smith said.

With Smith sidelined, Brumbies coach Andy Friend had no hesitation in pitching Hooper into the starting openside spot against the Chiefs.

Hooper, who has been promoted from the franchise's academy program, has signed a two-year senior Brumbies contract.

Friend mulled over moving one of his other backrowers into the openside position, but ultimately opted to give a Super debut to Hooper, who he described as a "quality young player".

"I think in the modern game you need a genuine No. 7 and he (Hooper) gives us the coverage," Friend told reporters.

Hooper was adamant he was ready for his rise in status.

"I'm very excited, big shoes to fill, but great footsteps to follow," Hooper told reporters on Monday.

Smith has a high opinion of Hooper, who he has mentored since the youngster joined the franchise.

"He's really impressed me with the way he goes about the game, he's a very exciting player with huge potential," Smith said of Hooper.

"He's very fast around the paddock, he has an instinctive ability to be where the play is and where the ball is."

Friend will make one other enforced change to the side which lost to the Blues, following confirmation inside back Christian Lealiifano has suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury.

The injury could sideline the in-form back for the remainder of the season with Friend saying he could be out for up to 12 weeks.

"He's been probably our star performer in the backline and to lose him is a big blow," Friend said.

The coach also said utility back Julian Huxley, who has played two games for the Brumby Runners since a two-year hiatus following the removal of a brain tumour, was "pretty close" to breaking back into the Brumbies' top 22.

Captain and outside centre Stirling Mortlock is expected to return from a neck and back injury.

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