Rugby: Learning curve for Smith

Otago first five-eighth Fletcher Smith moves the ball at Otago training at Logan Park this week....
Otago first five-eighth Fletcher Smith moves the ball at Otago training at Logan Park this week. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

Fletcher Smith is partway through his education - both on and off the field.

First year in first-class rugby, a tour with the New Zealand Colts, and chipping away at a university degree.

A first five-eighth, Smith wore the same No 10 jersey at Christchurch Boys' High School as some illustrious names before him - the likes of Aaron Mauger, Andrew Mehrtens and Dan Carter.

Smith, who does not turn 21 until next March, will be on the bench for Otago today against Southland.

He is a former Cantabrian, out of Nelson, who said he journeyed south for education.

''When I was in Christchurch I sort of found it hard to study. I wasn't really in the right environment for it. You're not around students and all that,'' he said.

''But down here it's just so much better. I'm like 30 seconds' walk away from the campus. And you are surrounded by students.

''I'm really enjoying it. Flatting with a good bunch of people. It is hard to juggle study with rugby. I missed seven weeks in the first semester and then came back to exams.''

Smith is studying commerce, majoring in management, with some accounting papers thrown in.

Bean counting may loom in the future for Smith but, at the moment, his focus away from the classroom is on the field.

Smith said there was a big difference between first-class and club play.

''In club you've just got more time. It is way more physical with Otago and with the speed of the game.

''You're blowing by about the 60-minute mark while in club it is about the 80th minute.

''It just comes down to experience. I learned a lot in the pre-season games ... In club you get a few more opportunities while at the next level you might only get two or three chances in a game and you've got to take them.''

Smith said help from Highlanders coaches Jon Preston and Tony Brown this year with specialist one-on-one coaching was a real boost to his play.

The duo helped with his kicking and all-round game management although he did not take everything Brown told him on board.

Brown wanted him to ditch the headgear he wears in every game.

''But I didn't want to. I like wearing it, gives you a bit of confidence when the big guys are running at you.''

He did make one concession - buying new headgear.

His old one - the only one he has ever had - had been worn since he was 7 and was patched up with tape and stitching.

Smith was picked in a New Zealand Colts squad which went to Australia for an Oceania tournament but he missed the cut to go to the World Junior Championships in June.

If he gets on the field tomorrow, Smith will probably be marking All Black Lima Sopoaga.

The two have clashed before, although some time ago.

''When I was at Nelson College we played them [Wellington College] and Lima was there. He was a few years older than me. They ended up smashing us.''

Smith, and Otago for that matter, will be hoping the same result is not repeated today.

Sopoaga is a key in the match - if Otago can stop him, it will go a long way to winning.

There is never much in these southern derbies - key moments and winning the battle up front.

Otago has not actually beaten Southland at home in a competitive match since 2004, so it is time to end that record.


Otago v Southland
Forsyth Barr Stadium, today, 5.35pm

Otago: Michael Collins, Sio Tomkinson, Matt Faddes, Tei Walden, Jack Wilson, Peter Breen, Josh Renton, Naulia Dawai, James Lentjes, Adam Knight, Tom Franklin, Blair Tweed, Hisa Sasagi, Liam Coltman (captain), Craig Millar. Reserves: Sekonaia Pole, Aki Seiuli, Donald Brighouse, Jackson Hemopo, Mika Mafi, Kaide Whiting, Fletcher Smith, Jayden Spence.

Southland: Tauasosi Tuimavave, Mike Molloy, Kieran Moffat, Willis Halaholo, Lolohea Loco, Lima Sopoaga, Liam Howley, Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, Bill Fukofuka, Joel Everson, Josh Bekhuis, Guy Millar, Brayden Mitchell, Jamie Mackintosh (captain). Reserves: Dillan Halaholo, Reuben Northover, Morgan Mitchell, Michael Stewart, Alex Taylor, Scott Eade, James Schrader, Junior Ngaluafe.

Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (Canterbury)



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