New Zealand tour
Smith remains coy on future
November 28, 2008
Smith and head coach Graham Henry celebrate their side's victory over Wales last weekend © Getty Images
Smith had his game face on when asked if the All Blacks' upcoming test against England at Twickenham might be a particularly emotional rugby occasion for him.
The All Blacks assistant coach has been linked with an imminent move to Welsh giant Ospreys. Smith has steadfastly refused to confirm his future since news broke of Swansea-based club's interest in the lead-up to the Ireland test in Dublin on November 15.
Smith will consider his options after the All Blacks tour finale -- a match that, ideally, will mark the completion of a Grand Slam. As an added bonus, the All Blacks' seventh consecutive victory over England would be rewarded with the Hillary Shield -- a new trophy to commemorate the life of legendary New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.
Smith said he would not meet with Ospreys officials while the tour was in progress, but revealed he may have discussions before returning home to weigh up his next coaching move with his family. The Twickenham showdown will be the 80th All Black test Smith has been involved with in a coaching capacity and he maintained his "neither confirm nor deny" policy when it was suggested it could be his last.
"There's no extra emotion other than it's a chance to honour Sir Ed," he said after the All Blacks' last intensive training run. I'm just trying to do my job well. I've got quite a big workload every week in terms of getting the strategy right, working with the boys to ensure it's their strategy."
Smith said he simply did not have the time to consider the Ospreys offer, one of several reportedly under consideration by the former test first five-eighth who made a successful transition to coaching.
"We work hard at training, we have a coaching meeting every day, we work hard at getting our training right. I just concentrate on those tasks and try to be the best I can be for the team this week.
"It's a big test against England and the consequences of winning it would be huge for this group."
Smith signed a two-year contract when Graham Henry was reappointed this year but he has a review clause he intended to use once he returned home. Ospreys nominated the 51-year-old as their preferred replacement for Lyn Jones, who left the club in May after five seasons in charge.
Smith's passion for the All Blacks has never wavered but it is thought the opportunity to become head coach for a second time in the UK -- he previously spent three years at English club Northampton -- and a less intensive travel schedule was appealing.
"The amount of time you're away adds up," he said when asked about his future in Wales. I spend more time in Air New Zealand lounges than my own lounge so you start to think about these things."
Smith was John Hart's technical adviser in 1998 and 1999, then head coach for two years before he was sacked after the 2001 Tri-Nations and replaced by John Mitchell. He returned to New Zealand to be Henry's backs coach in 2004 after enjoying a successful stint in England.
Meanwhile, there are whispers around the All Blacks camp that prop Carl Hayman is keen to return home from English club Newcastle. Hayman, considered the world's premier tighthead prop when he joined the post World Cup player exodus last year, is in the early stages of his second season with the Premiership strugglers. The 45-test veteran is contracted to Newcastle until mid-2010 after signing a lucrative deal reportedly worth £350,000 ($NZ989,500) a season.
It was understood Hayman has been in contact with former team-mates in relation to his future, although the New Zealand Rugby Union, Hayman and Newcastle were initially unavailable for comment. When Hayman departed, he suggested he may return for the 2011 World Cup and a player of his experience would obviously be welcomed back.
Newcastle are third from bottom in the premiership after seven rounds.
Elsewhere, All Blacks centre Conrad Smith, a lawyer, turned to history teaching at the New Zealand hotel here on Thursday.
Smith was tasked with reminding his teammates of the significance of the Hillary Shield, the new trophy they will play for on Saturday. The elaborate silver shield has been crafted to commemorate the achievements of the legendary conqueror of Mt Everest, New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary.
Smith was instructed to remind his teammates that Sir Ed, who passed away in January aged 88, was much more than the face on one side of the $5 note.
Though victory will secure New Zealand's third Grand Slam in the UK and Ireland since the `Originals' made the first attempt in 1905, becoming the inaugural holders of the shield is of paramount importance to the All Blacks as they contemplate the end of a 15-test schedule.
"The shield is the thing for us," insisted Smith. "This is the prize."
Sir Ed was part of a British expedition to Nepal when he scaled the world's highest peak 55 years ago, but the team have been left in no doubt he was first and foremost an iconic New Zealander.
Smith was comfortable the team had already had a good depth of knowledge. "Subliminally we've got some Sir Ed memorabilia around and the boys have been reading about him," he said. "There's a good knowledge about him."