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Bristol Bears flanker George Smith on how long he has left at the top and Pat Lam

BRISTOL’s veteran back row star George Smith wants to become the first professional player to enjoy a career spanning four decades.

Smith began at the Brumbies in 1999 and turns 39 next July – but after recently extending his contract under Pat Lam until the end of this season, the indefatigable Aussie openside has no intention of stopping until he makes it through to at least 2020.

Whether that will involve Bristol remains to be seen, but Smith told The Rugby Paper: “I do have a personal target. I started in 1999 and it would be nice to make that fourth decade, playing at least a few times in each, because no professional has done that.

“I’ve always enjoyed my football with all the teams I’ve been part of and it’s great to play rugby for a living, so it’s not hard to find the motivation to carry on.

“I had a short-term contract at Bristol but with the way the team was going, for me to extend shows the faith I have in the way we play the game and the people in the squad. It’s just for six months so we’ll leave it there for now and see how things go then.”

Smith believes Pat Lam is turning Bristol into a formidable team.

“In the last three weeks we’ve played some really good football and we’re building to something special. Everyone’s bought into Pat Lam’s vision of where this club wants to go and his coaching staff’s philosophies and I’ve been very impressed.

“Pat’s passionate, knows his game plan inside out and everyone’s buying into his culture of owning our own destiny. He’s very assured about what he wants from his rugby team and that gives you a lot of confidence as players to really bring that to fruition.”

Inside out: Pat Lam’s knowledge has lifted Bristol away from the pre-season relegation tag (Photo: Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Rugby director Lam has never hidden his desire to bring Champions Cup rugby to Bristol next season and last week’s crushing 41-10 win over Leicester boosted their qualification chances.

“It was great to repay the faith Bristol supporters have and it’s a very inclusive game we play with everyone in the team, from the front rowers to No.15, given an opportunity to get their hands on the ball, be link players and be strong in contact too,” Smith says.

“That’s what’s exciting about us; we’re willing to play out of our own half and take a calculated risk because we have players who are smart enough to control things as well. It’s a really good game plan for us and we believe we will only keep improving on it.”

Having earned a reputation for inspiring players around him, both during a previous spell at Wasps and now at Bristol, Smith’s future appears to lie in coaching.

“I do have an interest,” he added. “In the past I probably would have said ‘No’ to coaching but I’ve found myself looking at the strategic part of rugby, and having that ability to explain things to players in a way that they can put into action is very satisfying.

“Assisting with players’ development is an important part for older, more experienced players and I’ve found people are pretty receptive to what I pass on.”

NEALE HARVEY

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