The other, elusive Ben Smith

Ben and Nicola Smith enjoy the Bay of Plenty sunshine.PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Ben and Nicola Smith enjoy the Bay of Plenty sunshine.PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Everyone knows what Ben Smith has done and still has left to do. But what about the other Ben Smith who played for Otago and the Highlanders and also turned out for Southland? Rugby writer Steve Hepburn catches up with him. 

Ben Smith greatly admires Ben Smith. But the first Ben Smith is these days more concerned about riding in motocross events and staying healthy than playing rugby.

Smith, who at 35 is less than three years older than his namesake, is living in Tauranga where he was brought up.

Smith played 21 games for Otago, 11 games for Southland, and seven games for the Highlanders as an outside back.

He was quick on his feet and had a turn of pace.

But when another Ben Smith came along in 2007, there were two Ben Smiths wearing blue and gold.

So the older Ben Smith decided to change his name - on the rugby field anyway - to avoid confusion. He became Billy Elusiv and was known by that as he played out the season.

"It was Matt Saunders, actually. We were mucking around at training one day and I was doing an Elusive clothing line at the time. It was a simple name, really. And it has sort of stuck," he said.

"When I do all my [motocross] races now I go under the name Billy Elusiv. But my neighbour is called Ben, too.

"I never seriously changed my name. When I was a student at university you do come up with some silly ideas. But I looked into it and with needing to change your driver's licence, passport, things like that, it was going to cost a bit.

"Then when I told my mum she was not impressed at all. She talked about defaming the family name and all that."

Smith fondly remembers his time in Dunedin as a student and also his time playing for Southland.

"Dunedin is a beautiful city. I'd love to come back and have a look around. Just the culture we enjoyed down there. Everyone was really friendly and it was a bit less of a rat race.

"Southland, too, was a lot of fun. Just nice people and a great bunch of guys to play with."

Smith also played four years in Italy in the off-season and in between times managed to get a commerce degree from the University of Otago.

He and his wife, Nicola, own a fitness company which advises clients on training and programmes, over the internet.

Smith is enjoying being back in the Bay, and owns a 1ha property where his wife, who does dressage, keeps three horses.

He was brought up in the area and went to Tauranga Boys' College, where he was coached in the first XV by future Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

"He had really good people skills. [He was] one of those coaches who had the ability to get the best out of people ... I still remember it. It seems like yesterday."

Smith kept playing for Bay of Plenty for another four seasons after he left the South, but injury got in the way too much.

At the start of last year he picked up a serious concussion when playing for his club side and knew that was the end.

"It wasn't a hard decision, really. I was a bit over it by then anyway. But it was hard when I gave up. You have been around that team environment and your team-mates are your mates. So all of a sudden you don't have that so you have to be a bit more proactive."

Smith does not coach or have any role in rugby at present. He was looking for something to fill the hole left by rugby and thinks he has found it with motocross. His neighbour is former professional motocross rider Ben Townley.

"He's got his own track in front of his house. He's got a couple of young kids who hoon round so I try hard to catch them.

"But I love it. It has still got that competitive aspect but it is something completely different from rugby and which I have never experienced before. Plus it is solely up to you, not like rugby where it is a team game. It is totally out of my comfort zone."

Smith said the other Ben Smith deserved all his success, and he knew the younger Smith was a quality player when he came into the Otago side.

"He was pretty silky with his skills. For a young player he was very mature in what he did. You can just tell with some of those young guys who go on. Sam Cane was the same when he came in young at Bay of Plenty."

Add a Comment