Smith's stint in France deserved

Ben Smith has been a loyal servant to Otago Rugby. Photo: ODT files
Ben Smith has been a loyal servant to Otago Rugby. Photo: ODT files
No-one can begrudge Ben Smith his decision to go to France.

Few have given more service to the game in the South over the past dozen years than one Benjamin Robert Smith.

Smith (32), though, is not getting ahead of himself.


He admitted next year is going to be a big year, and that is before he even heads to Pau in France.

"There is so much rugby to be played next year I'm not even thinking about playing in France," he said.

"Obviously I need to get the most out of the next few weeks - have a bit of down time with the family and get right physically. I'm excited to get out there in what will be my last year for the Highlanders.

"I am excited about that challenge... you have to play well to get into the All Blacks."

Smith will be 33 when he arrives in France and will join a club with plenty of people he knows and admires.

Former All Blacks Conrad Smith, Simon Mannix and Carl Hayman are on the coaching staff of Pau while his former Highlanders backline colleague, Colin Slade, is still playing for the club.

Smith will head to France straight after the World Cup and has signed a seven-month deal to play until the end of the French club season.

After that it will be a summer in Europe and then, nearing 34, he may head to Japan or stay put in France. He signed for just the initial seven months with Pau so he could explore options.

Smith had a six-month break last year and said that had been a huge help in his playing future.

"I think that was one of the best things I could have done at that point. I had a few niggles. By the time I came back I was ready for rugby. I really missed being in a team environment. It gave me a chance to put a lot of energy back into the game."

The father of two is a model professional, who has been absolutely outstanding for the Highlanders ever since he debuted in the jersey in the first game of 2009.

A wing to start with, he first played at fullback for the Highlanders in 2010 and it is as the side's custodian that he has been at his best.

An ever-present threat on both attack and defence for the Highlanders, Smith is liable to be the first Highlander to play 150 games for the franchise next year. He has 144 games to his name now.

Such are the demands on the top players these days, Smith has played only 44 games for Otago, and last played for the blue and golds in 2012. He is stuck on 49 premier games for Green Island, club, the club for which he played as a schoolboy and after he left school.

"You never know. I might sneak out there next year and play a game for them. Or when I get back I might go out and get a game in."



All the best Ben and thanks for the memories. Here's hoping there ll be more good times with the All Blacks and Highlanders before you head North.