Ben Smith nearly quit New Zealand rugby
November 8, 2013
Ben Smith has enjoyed a productive Test season with New Zealand © Getty Images
New Zealand nearly lost Ben Smith overseas before he evolved into one of the world's premier backs, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has revealed.
Smith strongly considered a move in 2010, one year after making a modest Test debut against Italy in Milan, but Hansen says New Zealand Rugby identified him as a player they didn't want to lose and offered a lucrative two-year contract extension.
"He wasn't at that point anywhere near the player he is at the moment but the potential was there and the union trusted that, and I think they're getting well rewarded," Hansen said. "He's had a pretty special year."
Smith's explosive Super Rugby form with the Highlanders this year, at fullback, prompted further overseas offers but he says he wasn't as tempted this time and signed a lucrative four-year deal in July.
"When it was time to make a decision, it was a pretty easy one," Smith said. "I wanted to give the All Blacks the best crack I can, and you have to play rugby in New Zealand to do that."
Ben Smith so far has found the defensive responsibilities of winger easier than those of a centre © Getty Images
Smith has played mostly on the right wing for the All Blacks, shifting to centre for the past two Tests in the sabbatical absence of Conrad Smith, and he has made attacking rugby look easy in scoring 11 tries in 2013. But Hansen says Smith still faces a major challenge to hone the defensive skills needed at centre, and Saturday's Test against France will provide another important lesson about the demands after a mixed defensive display against Australia in Dunedin three weeks ago.
"He learned late in the game when he got a wee bit tired that he's got a tendency to drift out, so maybe the French have seen that and they'll have a crack at it," Hansen said.
Smith will need a handful of Tests to feel comfortable in the midfield, Hansen said.
"It'll be a massive bonus to us if he can master it because it gives us versatility when we pick teams, to have a guy who can play in three positions."
Follow live text commentary of the Test between France and New Zealand on Saturday, November 9 from 8pm (GMT) 9am (Sunday, November 10 NZDT), 7am (Sunday, November 10 AEDT)
Ben Smith enjoyed great success against France in June © Getty Images