'Predictable': Former Crusaders, ABs coach speaks out on current state of NZ rugby

Wayne Smith. Photo: Getty Images
Wayne Smith. Photo: Getty Images
Former All Blacks and Crusaders coach Wayne Smith wants to see rugby in New Zealand move away from the predictable nature that has arisen.

The double Rugby World Cup winning assistant spent a total of 17 years coaching in New Zealand at an international level and in Super Rugby. He coached the Crusaders to the 1998 and 1999 Super Rugby titles.

Smith has been part of Kobe Steelers in the Japanese Top League as director of rugby since 2018, and briefly served as a special counsel in the Italian rugby set-up.

Well-versed in the global game, Smith returned from Japan five weeks ago and has been taking in how Super Rugby Aotearoa is played. He told The Breakdown the way the ball is utilised off rucks lacks effectiveness.

"Everyone's playing pods – they'll have three forwards off the nine for example. But we seem to have become almost robotic, going through the phases," he says.

"How many phases does it take to score a try? I'm picking it's probably three or four phases, probably 75 per cent of your tries come from those three or four phases. I'd like to see a bit more efficiency and effectiveness off those plays.

"You get three guys coming forward off nine for example, you hit the middle guy, the two guys on the outside are there to clean, no one's coming forward outside them for the offload and it becomes a bit predictable. I'd like to see an option or two outside that third guy."

They may be sitting last on the Super Rugby Aotearoa ladder, but Smith likes what he's seen from the Highlanders under Tony Brown in 2021.

"They know how to keep the ball alive. Parts of the game aren't working for them, but they're beautiful to watch at times with their support play. Their players arrive thinking they're going to get an offload before they clean … I really enjoy that about them."

The 63-year-old left his post working under former All Blacks coach Sir Steve Hansen at the conclusion of the 2017 Rugby Championship, and since the national men's side has struggled to sustain consistent results, including back-to-back winless home matchups with the Springboks, a record-breaking loss to Australia before crashing out in the semifinals of the 2019 World Cup.

Smith says after relocating to Japan he was given "free reign" to implement a style he's always wanted to coach.

"The game's different over there, if you watch Kobe play at the moment and see Brodie Retallick - he's down to 117 kgs because he's got to be able to keep up with the game. He's magnificent, he's absolutely magnificent," Smith says.

"It's a faster game … we have a real attacking style. We put a lot of work into our support play."

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