Rugby League: Smith's day to claim his right

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It has been a good week for Tony Smith and he can edge closer still to the job he covets - that of Great Britain scrum-half - this evening. Smith, already recognised as the form player of the season in his position by inclusion in the annual Dream Team, plays for Wigan against Sheffield in the Stones Premiership semi-final at Central Park.

Success will not only take him to his first final as a Wigan player, it will also underline his claim, ahead of those of two former Wigan scrum- halves, Shaun Edwards and Bobbie Goulding, to wear Great Britain's No 7 shirt against Australia in November.

Smith, whose best run so far in international rugby was as a stand-off for England in the Centenary World Cup two years ago, is trying to concentrate on the first factor rather than the second. "I came to Wigan to have a chance of winning things," he said. "I'm not thinking about Great Britain at the moment. If I carry on playing well for Wigan, the rest will follow."

Part of the former Castleford player's appeal as a potential Great Britain scrum-half is the quality of his link at club level with Andy Farrell, the Wigan loose forward who will tomorrow be confirmed as captain for the series. The two clicked instantly on the field when Smith joined Wigan earlier this year, largely because of Smith's pace and incisiveness when he runs onto Farrell's deft passes. Many of Smith's 16 tries this season have come in that way, although he is at pains to point out that the partnership cuts both ways.

"I like to think I've created a few openings for Andy as well. It's not just a matter of me running off him," Smith said.

The two have a mutual understanding that can only help Smith's case, whether Farrell plays in his usual position for Great Britain or, as has been mooted, as the world's biggest stand-off.

"Playing with players of his quality was one of the attractions in coming to Wigan and I think his sheer professionalism has rubbed off on me," Smith says.

For his part, Farrell is a big admirer not only of Smith's attacking flair, but also of his crowd-pleasing defensive contribution. "It gives the team a real lift when you see Tony reeling off two or three tackles on the trot," he said.

Smith is expecting to have to do his share of tackling this evening, so impressive has Sheffield's form become at the back end of the season. "They are going to be coming to Central Park full of confidence after their result at London and they have a scrum-half who directs all their play in Mark Aston," he said. "His kicking game is outstanding - pushing you deep into your own half and trying to force the mistake."

Aston is a former Great Britain scrum-half himself - even if he was limited to one substitute appearance against France in 1991 - and he is playing his best rugby for years. But with his 30th birthday looming next week, his time has almost certainly passed, leaving the future to Smith and, beyond him, to the likes of Warrington's Lee Briers and Sean Long of St Helens.

Smith is 27, but his aim is to make the young challengers wait for a few years yet. Such is his tenacity that, once he has the shirt in his possession, it will take a very eager rival to take it away.

Comments