Wellington - Australian great George Smith said goodbye to Super Rugby for a second time on Saturday -- not with the fairytale close he wanted but with no regrets.
"I've had a great time," the veteran flanker said as he left Waikato Stadium after the ACT Brumbies faded in the final quarter of the Super 15 final to lose 27-22 to the defending champions Waikato Chiefs.
The 33-year-old, a member of the Brumbies teams that won the Super crown in 2001 and 2004, initially signed off from Super Rugby in 2010 to spend his twilight playing years overseas, first in France and then Japan.
But six months ago he was granted a temporary release by his Japanese club Suntory to answer a Brumbies SOS when Ita Vaea suffered a season-ending injury.
Since then the player dubbed a "phenomenom" by Brumbies coach Jake White has had a sensational season -- recalled to the Wallabies for the third Test against the British and Irish Lions and playing in the Super 15 final.
"It's been amazing. I've absolutely loved every moment playing with the Brumbies and the one-off chance to play with the Wallabies," said Smith who has played 111 internationals.
"I've always regarded the Brumbies as family. I felt at home when I did arrive (back) and I'm very grateful for the Brumbies fans and the Brumbies organisation for welcoming me. I've had a great time."
White said it was unfortunate the Brumbies could not give Smith the farewell present they desperately desired of a third championship medal
"He's phenomenal. It wasn't the way we wanted to say goodbye to him, we wanted to give him the trophy," White said.
"He epitomises what Brumbies rugby is all about. He wants to be a Brumbie. He's played for the Brumbies. He came back and wanted to add value and we are obviously very grateful for the contributions he has made."
Although Smith said goodbye, his Chiefs opposite and former All Blacks flanker Tanerau Latimer said he would not be surprised if the formidable Australian number seven reappeared in future.
"He's still the best around that area. The older he gets the better he gets," he said.