Go for it, Smithy, when England come begging

WAYNE MARTIN
Last updated 13:00 26/04/2012

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OPINION: It's tough to imagine what it must be like for a Kiwi bloke torn between national loyalties.

Take Wayne Smith, for example. Besides playing 17 tests for the All Blacks back in the day, the former rugby international first five-eighth has arguably made more of a name for himself as a coach, most conspicuously as assistant coach of the world champion All Blacks.

He's currently employed as Dave Rennie's assistant at the Chiefs Super 15 franchise and, on the evidence of the Hamilton-based team's spectacular progress through this year's campaign, making a damn good fist of it.

His latest eight-year stint with the All Blacks ended after their win over France in last year's Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park.

Now England are sniffing around, apparently looking to sign him on as their new backs coach ahead of their summer tour to South Africa. So what's a respected All Blacks stalwart to do? Look after No1, that's what.

It's clear in this professional age that for players and coaches alike, your loyalties can change, indeed are often forced to change, at the drop of a contract.

Former All Blacks hooker and Waikato coach Warren Gatland has brought the whole international sporting allegiance issue more into focus after helping guide Wales to this year's Six Nations title.

It appears he's done so with our blessing, even to the point of him now being touted as the likely head coach for next year's Lions' tour to Australia where, incidentally, he would be locking horns with Robbie Deans.

And how's that all working for you, Robbie?

Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell's currently in charge of South Africa's struggling Lions Super 15 team and Taranaki-born John Plumtree's now into his fifth season as the Sharks' head coach.

John Kirwan's been in charge of both Italy and Japan. Smith's clearly not alone.

Remember the vitriolic response by some sections of the New Zealand public when Russell Coutts helped Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi syndicate take the America's Cup off Team New Zealand in 2003.

And it all transpired in the murky shadow of an asinine and embarrassing band of misguided zealots known as BlackHeart, their sole purpose seemingly to torment Coutts throughout that New Zealand campaign.

Will Smith attract the same degree of derision should he agree to terms with the England Rugby Union? If he was considering a switch to Romania, then who'd give a toss?

But, England being England, any decision by him to head north would undoubtedly be accompanied by accusations of betrayal from some diehard All Blacks supporters.

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Restraint of trade questions aside, the big issue will be inside Smith's head.

If he can come to terms with it, then the world's his very lucrative oyster.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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