Smith to leave All Blacks

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith will step down from his post at the end of the 2017 Rugby Championship campaign.

Smith, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, confirmed on Friday that he will draw the curtain on a 20-year involvement with the All Blacks, saying the time was right to hang up his coach's whistle and step away from full-time coaching.

'I'm at the point after 20 years in black, while I've got the hunger today, I don't know if I can go on too much longer. I'm ready to refresh, take a sabbatical and recondition. I might rotate back in to rugby at some point. It's not an easy decision to make when you love it. But when you've got the feeling that it's soon time to go, you've got to go. So once I felt that inside I knew it was time to move on.

'It's unbelievable to think that I've been involved in playing and coaching with the All Blacks for 20 years, a third of my life. I've had an incredible time and shared in some fantastic experiences. But it's time to hang up my coach's whistle for a while, take a bit of a hiatus, freshen up and spend some more time with my wife Trish and our family,' he said.

Smith, who was in charge of the All Blacks' defence in recent years, singled out and acknowledged a number of individuals for their support throughout his career. 

'I want to thank my family for allowing me the opportunity to do what I have done for so many years. I've never taken their support for granted and it's been huge for me. I want to thank Steve Tew, Steve Hansen and Gilbert Enoka, who have been constants in my career since our Canterbury days. They've provided longstanding support and friendship for many years, which I'm very thankful for.

'I'd also like to acknowledge Sir Graham Henry, who gave me the opportunity to return to the All Blacks coaching set-up in 2004. I really appreciated that, as well as the guidance he gave me. I also want to acknowledge all the All Blacks coaches, management and players I’ve worked with over the years. Working alongside these professionals has been massive for me and has kept me up to date with new ideas and stimulated my thinking,' he concluded.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen paid tribute to Smith, who he labelled a 'special man'.

'I'd like to thank Wayne Smith for his contribution, not only to NZ Rugby as a whole, but particularly the All Blacks. He has had a long association with the team as a player, a head coach for a while there, and as an assistant. He has always been a man I've hugely respected. I was lucky to meet him a few years ago when I was a young nipper. I even had the privilege of being sent home from training by him on one occasion. You have been a massive contributor to NZ Rugby and a wonderful ambassador,' said Hansen.

'I knew it was time to let him finish when he asked my wife to convince me to stop pressuring him into re-signing. It’s with sadness that we let him go, but it’s also with the confidence of knowing that he has left an everlasting legacy, which is all one can expect of an All Black man. Smithy is undoubtedly a true All Black legend.'

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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Mariette Adams