LONDON, October 27 – If defence wins World Cups then New Zealand say they have the right man in Wayne Smith building their barricades.
While head coach Steve Hansen is the public face of the All Blacks, the players say Smith’s astuteness has been critical in getting them to the World Cup final against Australia on Saturday.
The coaching guru, recognised as one of the best analytical minds in world rugby, has ensured the All Blacks have conceded just four tries in six matches so far in the tournament.
“Any time you concede a very small amount of points you’re putting yourself in with a chance and obviously going into the game this weekend it’s something we can take confidence from,” lock Sam Whitelock said.
“He’s had a big impact on the team,” added fullback Ben Smith, the last line of defence for the All Blacks.
It will be of little comfort for England to hear the man known as “The Professor” is again having such a profound influence on the All Blacks.
England tried unsuccessfully to get Smith on board to assist Stuart Lancaster several years ago and when they were bundled out early in this World Cup, Smith’s name was raised as a possible successor for Lancaster should his contract not be renewed.
But the 58-year-old former All Black has made it clear he is not interested in coaching any side against New Zealand, and the All Blacks are thankful for that.
“Smithy’s been great for us. He always gives us good insight as to how the other teams will be looking at us and what they’ll be seeing,” Ben Smith said.
“He’s been doing a great job getting our preparation right.
“He’s good individually to. You can go to him and talk about position-specific things to help yourself out.”
Smith, who played 17 Tests for the All Blacks, emerged as a successful coach when he guided the Crusaders to win the 1998 and 1999 Super titles and took over as head coach of the All Blacks for two years after that.
He resigned in 2001 after the All Blacks lost the Bledisloe Cup, contested every year with the Wallabies.
After a stint with Northampton he returning to New Zealand and joined Hansen as Graham Henry’s assistants for eight years culminating with the 2011 World Cup victory.
Smith, who shuns the limelight, left the All Blacks set up after 2011 and returned to Super rugby to work with the Chiefs.
However, a year out from the World Cup, Hansen realised he needed fresh and innovative thinking and appealed to Smith to rejoin his coaching line up as a defence and counter-attacking specialist.
“It’s been good having ‘Smithy’ back in the camp,” said hooker Keven Mealamu.
“He’s a big influence with guys understanding their roles and he’s put some good systems in place for us.
“Wayne’s got a really good rapport with the players. He’s a very smart man. He sees a lot of things that players doesn’t usually pick up on and he’s good at getting his teaching across. His attention for detail is right up there.”