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An Interview With Sir Wayne Smith

Harry Irving, Captain of the Scots College First XV Rugby team, and Brooke Jones from our First XV Girls team, interview Sir Wayne Smith about his rugby career.

Harry: Thank you to for coming to Scots College and sharing your wisdom and knowledge with us. Can you give us a rundown on your history with rugby and tell us about your first club or school?

Sir Wayne: I grew up in a little rural town called Putāruru in South Waikato. There was only one sport in town in winter and that was rugby. I started as a 5-year-old, playing backyard rugby with the bigger boys who lived down the end of my street. There wasn’t really a lot of coaching in those days, my father coached some of the teams I was in. But the high school in Putāruru was a real rugby powerhouse, probably one of the strongest schools in the country. I only made the First XV in my last year, because there were so many strong players at that school. My dream had always been to play for my home club, Putāruru Athletic. I went to Waikato University, but instead of playing for my university, I travelled home to play club rugby for Putāruru. I made a bit of progress, but by the time I’d finished my degree, it became obvious that I wasn’t going to make the Senior Rep team in Waikato, and it’s fair to say the Waikato coach didn’t give me a glowing report!

It was the start of 1979, I was from a little country town, and I hadn’t had a lot of top level coaching. The coach was probably right at the time. But he’d only looked at what I had on the outside. He didn’t see what I had on the inside. After that I went to Teachers College in Christchurch. After three months there, I was picked to play for Canterbury. By the end of 1979, I was a non-travelling reserve for the All Blacks. It just shows – you don’t have to come from big places, you can still make it.

Brooke: What led you to make the move to professional coaching?

Sir Wayne: At the end of my All Blacks career, my wife and I took our kids to Italy and I played and coached there for a couple of years. When I came back, I played another season for Canterbury and I became a player-coach for Canterbury B, and that was the start of my coaching career. My captain in Canterbury B was Steve Hansen, who went on to become the All Blacks coach. After another stint in Italy, I returned to New Zealand and became Chief Executive of Hawkes Bay Rugby. By 1996, rugby had gone professional. You always need a bit of luck in your life. The luck for me was when the Crusaders finished bottom of the table in 1996. They advertised a coaching job for 1997 and I applied. That was my first opportunity as a professional coach. We went on to win in 1998 and we won again in 1999, and my career took off from there. I never expected to be a long-term professional coach. It all just happened. I’m 66 now, and I’m still coaching.

Harry: Do you have any advice for our rugby players?

Sir Wayne: My biggest piece of advice is that games are meant to be fun. It’s important not to forget that. I always think as a coach, if the people playing for you aren’t flourishing, then you have to look at yourself. Are you giving them enough time to have fun, to do what they love doing without all the pressures on them? Are they owning the sport, the game, the environment? Even though I’ve been coaching for 36 years, I’m still learning about all that. My message to coaches is make sure it’s fun, and involve the players in that, find out what makes them tick and help them. To the players, I’d say make sure you enjoy it. Playing rugby will be some of the best years of your life. Rugby is a game for everyone. It’s unique in that way. To me, it’s the greatest sport in the world.

Rugby has been played at Scots College since 1916, and we are proud that Scots Collegians have gone on to achieve provincial and national representation.To find out more about options for playing rugby and other sports at Scots College, click the button below.

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