George Smith and the Top Players Aged 35 and Older in World Rugby

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistMay 27, 2015

George Smith and the Top Players Aged 35 and Older in World Rugby

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    Hannah Peters/Getty Images

    Wasps added to their growing list of elite-level players this week after BBC Sport announced the Premiership club had signed Australia legend George Smith.

    Smith, capped 111 times for the Wallabies, will turn 35 this July and has a chance to make Michael Cheika's Rugby World Cup squad following a change in the national team's policy on overseas players.

    It speaks volumes of the flanker's evergreen ability that even in his older age the former Brumbies star can contribute at the top, but age is just a number to some.

    In recognition of Smith's impending arrival at the Ricoh Arena, we profile a few of those players aged 35 and over who are still reigning supreme in the world of rugby, although some are already making way for retirement.

Honourable Mention: George Smith

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    One doesn't become a Test centurion without picking up a few tricks along the way. While Smith may have some blessed genetics to thank, a lot of the back-rower's success is down to hard work and nothing else.

    It's no secret the famed forager regularly plays his best rugby on the floor. He boasts the kind of rucking traits even countryman David Pocock can look up to, as Smith is unafraid of picking up any bumps or bruises.

    Smith turns 35 this summer but has shown with Lyon over the past year that age only has as much of an impact as an athlete will allow it to, although he didn't do enough to keep the French side in the Top 14.

    Wasps have made an exciting capture with the Australia veteran now on board. Smith is looking to make his first dent in the Aviva Premiership, the likes of which France and Super Rugby are already all too familiar with.

1. Paul O'Connell

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    It will be a sad day in Ireland when 35-year-old Paul O'Connell officially decides to hang up his boots, something that could come to pass as early as this year depending on how Joe Schmidt's side fare at the World Cup.

    As reported by Brendan Fanning of the Irish Independent, O'Connell confirmed last Saturday's Pro12 playoff semi-final win over Ospreys as his last game at Thomond Park, with a move to Toulon potentially on the cards.

    After starting in 94 of his 101 Tests for the boys in green, O'Connell is the greatest second-rower ever to represent the nation; he's been a crucial component of the side from his very first steps among their ranks.

    His contributions in this year's Six Nations triumph showed just what an instrumental figure he continues to be. He's one of those rare players who might even go on for years to come.

    Due to the physical, unrelenting nature of his play, though, it would be selfish to ask so much of the lock legend, who is sure to go down in Munster lore as one of the best ever to play as part of the Red Army.

2. Carl Hayman

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    Having joined Toulon in 2010, Carl Hayman may deservedly be called a part of the club's "old guard" if ever there was one. He has played a prominent part in their hat-trick of European titles and more in recent years.

    The 35-year-old left his native New Zealand eight years ago and hasn't looked back, spending several years with Newcastle Falcons prior to his move to France, before which he enjoyed seven fruitful years with the Highlanders.

    Toulon are fortunate to be able to call on the tight-head prop in any situation and almost guarantee stability with Hayman's presence around—an indicator of just how influential he tends to be in any match he plays a role.

3. Julien Bonnaire

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    Lyon have sealed a double coup with the summer acquisitions of Clermont Auvergne duo Napolioni Nalaga and Julien Bonnaire, the latter of whom gives their pack an experienced figurehead.

    Bonnaire's international days are long a thing of the past, but he accumulated 75 caps before calling a day on his involvement with Les Bleus in 2012.

    Just as Clermont have continued to compete alongside the best in France and Europe, so too has Bonnaire maintained his lofty standards while other 36-year-olds may allow skill levels to drop.

    Like the aforementioned Smith, Bonnaire tends to take an almost sinister comfort in controlling matters on the floor, and the flanker remains a daunting talent in his area of the field.

4. Brad Thorn

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    The oldest candidate to make this list, 40-year-old Brad Thorn will finally call time on his career this summer after announcing his plans to retire 21 years after making his professional rugby debut, per the New Zealand Herald.

    Back then, Thorn was a teenager who made his rugby league debut with the Brisbane Broncos. He went on to represent Australia on eight occasions, win the National Rugby League four times and clinch State of Origin success twice.

    The athlete impressed enough to earn a switch of codes and win a Rugby World Cup with his native New Zealand. He has played for some of the biggest clubs in Super Rugby, not to mention Leinster and Leicester.

    In no uncertain terms, it's debatable as to whether we'll ever see another player with Thorn's longevity, but one can only hope there's a new breed of player emerging with the same love for the game.


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