Ben Smith: 'I can certainly see myself moving in more than
moving out and becoming a midfielder.'
The comparison is likely to be made a lot.
It could become tedious, but probably not: Ben Smith will
gladly accept comparisons with his namesake Conrad - but only
if they are genuine and beyond the superficial.
It's easy at the moment to compare the two - both naturally
lithe athletes whose respective games are built on timing,
footwork and footballing smarts. And they have the same
But Conrad is world-class - proven world-class - and
deceptively more powerful and physically robust than is often
Ben Smith would love to have the same depth to his game. He'd
love to have the same defensive presence, the same innate
understanding of how to command the midfield and bring the
back three into the game.
"It does inspire me a bit watching Conrad," says Smith. "We
are similar-shaped athletes I suppose and he uses his
footwork and a bit more of his smarts.
"That's the thing I'd like to take out of his game - to make
sure I use my footwork and that I am smart when I see a gap
about how to get through it."
And for now, that's where Ben Smith would like to halt
comparisons. If they are to continue, he knows he has to earn
that right - to deliver performances that establish him as
the next in line to the No13 jersey.
End-of-year tours are often the scene for transition - shifts
in pecking orders and tactical thinking. By the end of this
one, Smith's emergence as a potential successor at centre may
be one of the bigger elements.
There is, of course, back in New Zealand a chap by the name
of Richard Kahui who may yet feature in this cosy little
scenario. Kahui has long had designs on being the next All
The thing is, though, his physically robust and abrasive game
as well as excellence under the high ball and defensive clout
make him almost better suited to wing.
It's unlikely the All Blacks will deviate in the immediate
future from having a direct, line-breaking No12, which is why
this coaching panel are being drawn to the two Smiths at
centre: they need balance in their midfield, individuals who
use guile and timing. They need a distributor and organiser
at centre and they need Smith to make a statement that he is
ready to be that man.
The big picture is not, however, something Smith has given
"I just look at it [test against Scotland] as an opportunity
to wear the black jersey and to get out there on Sunday and
do the best job I can.
"If I do that, it might give me another opportunity. I
haven't had many opportunities, so I have to make the most of
It's apparent Smith is willing and able to remain patient in
his quest to break through. That's partly because such
qualities are inherent in his nature and partly because he
knows the value of waiting.
Dunedin-born and bred, the 26-year-old has shown enormous
loyalty to his home town - having stuck with Otago and the
Highlanders through thin and little thick.
It was challenging at times - nearly all the time - and there
were ample opportunities to shift. But he turned them down,
even the chance to head offshore last year.
He was one of the players former All Black coach Graham Henry
had in mind when he aired his disappointment about young men
who give things a go for a while, only to give up their dream
when foreign suitors come with cash.
Smith gave it ample thought and then decided it would be
crazy to leave - his time would come if he continued to work
hard. Now, the next stage of his career will be shaped by
how, or indeed if, he chooses to convert from a utility back
to specialist centre.
His versatility won him his spot in the squad but now he can
set himself up for longer, as a starter not too far down the
track, if he can become a quality, specialist centre.
"It is good to keep my options open but at some stage I am
going to have to decide to move to the midfield or to make a
[different] choice," he says.
"I can certainly see myself moving in more than moving out
and becoming a midfielder. I think the big difference is that
you make a lot more tackles in the midfield, as you're in the
defensive line. Giving others opportunities and space is
another big difference.
"When you're a fullback, you're looking to do the penetration
yourself and get across the advantage line. But at centre,
you have to set up other people a bit more - take the gap
when it's there - but make sure you're setting up the
outsides, that your distribution is good."
- By Gregor Paul