Taranaki's gift to Wellington rugby

Conrad Smith: "For a start I intended to become a journalist."
Conrad Smith: "For a start I intended to become a journalist."

Hurricanes captain and All Black Conrad Smith talks about living in Island Bay, being a lawyer and how to avoid boredom as a rugby player.

So you're a Taranaki boy.

Yes, I was born in Hawera. My father was a policeman and we moved to New Plymouth. I went to Francis Douglas College there.

Is New Plymouth still home?

It is in that I go back there at Christmas and on other occasions to visit my family, and it's very familiar. But Wellington's really my home now. I've been here nearly half my life. I love the city and can't imagine that I'd ever move.

Did you visit Wellington much when you were younger?

Living in New Plymouth, Auckland and Wellington were the big cities and we made a few family trips to each. I remember one time coming down to Wellington, the Big Smoke, to go to a Hurricanes' match at Athletic Park. I liked the city, but it seemed very big in those days. We didn't do much sightseeing, not even the Beehive or Te Papa, and we stayed on the Kapiti Coast, where there was a police house.

Where do you live?

Island Bay. I moved there five or six years ago because it was near Newtown, where we train, and near the airport. But I just like the community and feel very happy there.

What's the appeal of Wellington?

I loved it when I came here and love it more now. The weather doesn't bother me. I don't eat out as often as some of my team- mates, but I enjoy the cafes and restaurants, and I like to be a bit cultural and get to some theatre shows. That's one of the beauties of Wellington.

Were you always going to be a rugby player?

At college I loved sport and played cricket very seriously, and also rugby. But sport wasn't a career option in those days. I was an opening bowler, but like a lot of pace bowlers I hurt my back, so after that I turned my attention elsewhere. I enjoyed school and did it pretty well, so it wasn't just sport for me.

Didn't you become a lawyer?

Yes, but for a start I intended to become a journalist. I thought I'd get a law degree then move on to the Canterbury journalism course. When I began studying law, I really enjoyed it. I interned at Bell Gully, but that was about the time I was breaking into the Lions and the Hurricanes. Rugby sort of took over.

Have you kept your hand in with law?

Definitely. I did my professionals a few years ago and on days off and in holidays I do some work, just to keep my hand in. It's good work experience. We often get told that rugby doesn't last forever. I'm keen to use my law degree in some way.

Does your legal knowledge help in rugby when it comes to signing contracts?

Common sense works better than anything. I like to do a lot of stuff myself, not just rely on an agent, so it's been handy. The contracts come round only every three years or so, but things do arise. I get quite a lot of requests from team-mates, some of them quite interesting. It's surprising what they think I know because I'm a lawyer. I'm good at bluffing.

Did you ever envisage your rugby career stretching out as it has?

No. You get into the Wellington team, or the Hurricanes or the All Blacks, and you're so happy. You don't think ahead eight or nine years. The percentage of players whose careers go beyond three or four years is not that high. A lot of guys drop out. You hope you'll be there a long time, but it's not some long-term plan.

How did you feel when the All Blacks lost in the quarterfinals at the 2007 World Cup?

It hurt, but if I'd been in the team longer it would have hurt more. That was maybe the best group of players in any team I've been in, in terms of talent. But it was a good illustration that in rugby you can't take anything for granted, no matter how strong you are. I was still pretty new, but I really felt for guys like Anton Oliver and Reuben Thorne, former All Black captains, because it was their last chance to win the thing. I felt I'd have another crack at it, so even though I was disappointed, there was that feeling that I could do something about it to make it right.

What was the feeling like when you won in 2011?

It felt just great, a lot of unfinished business completed. We had a core of experienced players who had learned from the errors made in previous years. We got caught up in the tournament and it was only later when you looked back that you realised how intense it had been. We had a couple of days together celebrating, then I went back to Wellington and didn't leave the house for a couple of days. I was shattered emotionally. Then I went off on a long overseas holiday. It felt good to get away from rugby for a while.

Do you get bored being a rugby player?

No, but I can see how that could happen. I try really hard to make the most of all the travel we do. I try to have a good look at the places we visit, absorb different places. You're there to play rugby, of course, but there is a chance to use your time off. You have to be interested in things outside rugby.

Do you ever go off exploring alone?

Not usually. Quite often some of the young guys come along with me. It beats just sitting round waiting for the next training session or team talk.

Were you pleased with your rugby in 2012?

Very pleased. I hadn't really chased the captaincy of the Hurricanes, but once I got it I enjoyed it, more than I thought I would. We had some work to do at the Hurricanes. It was pretty rough the year before, and I was really pleased how everyone got stuck in, and how the fans supported us. I'll never forget that. I was proud of how hard the group as a whole worked.

Do you sometimes come off the park on a personal high and think, "That went really well"?

Sometimes things fall your way in a game, but I try to keep a fairly balanced outlook. I never get too carried away if I have a good game. It's a fine line between what people perceive as you having a good game and a bad one, just the bounce of the ball sometimes.

The Wellingtonian