Former All Blacks and Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith has been knighted for services to rugby in New Zealand’s annual King’s birthday honours list.
Nicknamed ‘The Professor’ due to his astute rugby mind, the 66-year-old has become one of the most respected coaches in the game.
Smith helped the New Zealand men’s team to successive Rugby World Cup titles in 2011 and 2015 before leading the women’s outfit to global glory during the 2021 competition.
“A massive honour, but I feel it’s an absolute privilege,” he said. “You can’t do anything by yourself in rugby, you’re reliant on players, coaches, staff and I’m really grateful for the people I’ve been surrounded by in my career.”
An excellent fly-half when he was younger, Smith played for Canterbury and earned 17 caps for the All Blacks between 1980 and 1985 before he turned his hand to coaching.
He started with ASD Rugby Casale and then had stints at Benetton Treviso and the Crusaders. His outstanding success at the Christchurch outfit led to him being appointed head coach of the national team in 2000, but that proved a short stay.
New Zealand Rugby weren’t happy with their results and performances, and he was duly replaced by John Mitchell, who led them into the 2003 World Cup.
A three-year spell abroad with Northampton Saints in the English Premiership followed before Graham Henry brought him back to his home country.
He was appointed the All Blacks’ backs coach in 2004 and he, alongside Henry, proceeded to reinvent the game as they dominated at international level for three years.
Despite the World Cup failure in 2007, Smith was retained for the next cycle which culminated in them ending 24 years of hurt.
He left for the Chiefs after the 2011 global tournament, becoming part of Davie Rennie’s backroom team as they won successive Super Rugby titles, but returned to the national side just prior to their 2015 World Cup success.
In just a few months, he played a significant part in turning their fortunes around as they defeated the Red Roses 34-31 in the World Cup final at Eden Park in front of a then-record crowd for a women’s match.
“(The World Cup) was a helluva adventure,” Smith told the New Zealand Herald on Monday. “I had no idea when I entered it how fulfilling it would be – not just the rugby but the way the women were, the connection with community, the goodness in them and joy they had for playing. Those are things I´ll never forget.”
Governing body New Zealand Rugby extended their congratulations to Smith.
Knowledge and innovation
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said: “On behalf of everyone involved in New Zealand rugby, I want to congratulate Wayne (Smithy) on his honour.
“He epitomises rugby’s values and has been hugely influential as a coach. His rugby knowledge, detail, and innovative approach to the game, alongside his ability to engage players and work alongside management, is exceptional.
“He is a credit to our sport and our country. He gives back to rugby in myriad ways and is a pillar in his local communities.
“Wayne has dedicated many years to the NZ Foundation for Conductive Education and is committed to sharing a service mindset within rugby as well.
“Both his family and Wayne can be incredibly proud of everything he has given to the game and his community.”
READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the Rugby World Cup
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