Wallabies flanker George Smith – one of only four Australians to have reached the milestone of 100 tests – has announced his retirement from international rugby and will be released from his ARU and Brumbies contract at the end of the Super 14 season.
He plans to take up a contract with an offshore club.
The 110-test veteran recently approached ARU and Brumbies officials to discuss his future and felt after 10 seasons in the Australian jumper he wanted to explore other options.
Talks led to the 29-year-old, who made his test debut with a man of the match performance against France in Paris in 2000, requesting an early release from a contract that was to expire after the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
"George has made an enormous contribution to Australian Rugby for more than a decade," ARU boss John O'Neill said today.
"His list of achievements in the game, both with the Brumbies in Super Rugby and with the Wallabies at the highest levels of the game, stands him alongside the all time greats.
"Obviously we wanted George to stay and continue through to his third Rugby World Cup.
"We had lengthy discussions. However, when he made it clear that his passion for international rugby was not the driving force it once was, we agreed there were suitable grounds for an early release given his long and continuous service to the game in this country.
"We could have insisted he see out his contract and blocked any opportunities to play the game overseas before the next Rugby World Cup. His wholehearted commitment over 10 years, however, deserves special consideration.
"We wish George all the best for the future as he enters his final season of Super Rugby with the Brumbies."
Smith said it was a difficult decision to leave Australian Rugby at the end of May having started with the Brumbies in 1999 and the Wallabies a season later.
"I have been involved with the Wallabies and rugby at the highest level internationally for over 10 years," he said.
"Throughout these 10 years I have always held a deep respect and honour for the Wallabies jersey and for what it means to be a Wallaby. I have considered it a privilege to wear the gold jersey in representation of my family, my friends, my fellow players, past Wallabies and of course my country.
"Being a part of the Australian Rugby family has also allowed me to form and develop lifelong friendships. From coaching staff and mentors who have helped nurture my ability as a player to my fellow players who have not only treated me as an equal from my debut in France 2000, but also helped me to become a better Rugby player and I believe, a better person"
"The decision to retire from test Rugby has been a very difficult one for me and one that I have made after much consideration and soul searching in recent months.
"Although I believe that I could play competitive rugby at the highest level and contribute to the Wallabies for many years to come I know in my heart that this is the right time to step aside.
"In recent times I believe that the Wallabies have created the right balance between providing opportunity for the outstanding young talent that is within Australian rugby and also having the knowledge and experience in senior players to bring out their very best.
"Under Robbie Deans the Wallabies player group has committed itself and worked incredibly hard and I believe that the fruits of this hard work will be seen in the months and years ahead, most importantly at the 2011 World Cup.
"With Robbie, Rocky and the current player group I believe that the Wallabies brand and culture is in the best of hands.
"It is largely a decision about the most important people in my life: my family. As many of you would be aware I have a young family with three children under five and I feel that my wife Louise and my family have made a great many sacrifices to allow me to pursue my rugby career over the years.
"I believe that now is the time for me to give back to my family, to be able to spend more quality time with my wife and young children. It has become increasingly difficult for me to spend large periods of time away from home and my family and this is something that I would like to change.
"I would also like the opportunity to experience a different environment and culture together as a family unit whilst still playing competitive rugby. I personally feel that I owe this opportunity to my family.
"In light of these considerations it is my intention to explore the opportunities to play for an international club at the conclusion of the 2010 Super 14 season. The decision as to where I will continue my rugby career will be made with regards to the best interests of my family and I have no definite plans in this regard at this time."
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said Smith possessed exceptional qualities – as a rare backrow talent with an almost indestructible physique and leadership abilities which carried him to the heights of captaining his country.
"You only have to look at the statistics of his career to realise what a special player George is, and to appreciate the enormity of his contribution to Australian rugby," he said.
"Not only has he been a great team man, he has been a fine leader of young men as a role model – both as a player and as a captain. Consistency, both in terms of his availability and the level of his performance, has been his hallmark."
Brumbies coach Andy Friend said Smith's record speaks for itself: "More than 100 tests, 120 games of Super Rugby for the Brumbies, eight Brett Robinson players' player awards (at the Brumbies) and four Super 14 player of the year awards demonstrate what a tremendous footballer George Smith is.
"The Brumbies have been extremely fortunate to have someone who's not only an immensely talented footballer but a fantastic bloke in their squad for the last 10 years and his performances will long live in the memory of anyone that's witnessed him play."
Brumbies CEO Andrew Fagan added: "George is arguably the greatest Brumby and Wallaby to have played the game and there is little that he hasn't achieved during his career.
"He's always been very honest and a man of great character and we did not want to stand in his way. I think I speak for all Brumbies fans in hoping the side plays a role in this year's Super 14 finals to give a great of the game a fitting send off."GEORGE SMITH FACT FILE
Born: 14 July 1980
Super 14 caps: 120
Super 14 debut: v Sharks (2000)
Super 14 points: 75 (15 tries)
Test caps: 110
Test debut: v France (2000)
Test points: 45 (9 tries)