October 20, 2017 / 5:51 AM / a year ago

Rugby-All Blacks set to say goodbye to 'Professor' Smith

SYDNEY, Oct 20 (Reuters) - All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith will end his 20-year association with the team on Saturday when they face Australia in their final Bledisloe Cup match of the season.

There is unlikely to be any parades or statues unveiled in his hometown of Putaruru — not that the self-effacing 60-year-old known as ‘The Professor’ would want them anyway — but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Smith had left an enduring legacy after three coaching stints with the team.

“He’s very open-minded, he shares things ... he was inventive, and he carried that innovation into his coaching,” Hansen told the All Blacks website (www.allblacks.com).

“He’s never sat still as a coach, he’s always been very passionate about it.

“He won’t be defined by whatever happens Saturday. He’s been a great coach. He’s done something magnificently for the All Blacks and New Zealand rugby, and probably world rugby.

“We can all be proud of him.”

Pride in the jersey is something that epitomises Smith’s lengthy career in rugby.

He spent five years as an exciting running flyhalf for the team in the early-mid 1980s, appearing 35 times, including 17 tests, then spent time coaching in Italy before three seasons with the Canterbury Crusaders.

After working with the All Blacks as an assistant under John Hart in 1998-99, he took the top job in the wake of their 1999 World Cup semi-final loss to France, with fan confidence at such a low ebb the players had “losers” scrawled on their baggage upon their return home.

Smith restored some faith in the team but ran into a world champion Wallabies side playing at their peak and was fired after failing to win the Bledisloe Cup in 2001.

He spent three seasons with English side Northampton before being coaxed home by Graham Henry to join him as an assistant alongside Hansen.

Smith told Britain’s Guardian newspaper earlier this year he was “deeply disillusioned” with aspects of the culture of the team and helped combat binge drinking and poor behaviour, driving out some serial offenders.

Smith, who played a part in New Zealand’s back-to-back World Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2015, said in May when he made the decision to step down that doing things differently had been a key factor in making the All Blacks what they are — the most successful team in world rugby.

“We tried things, and we took chances,” he told reporters. “We have been a group that has challenged the norm and I think the legacy is in a good place.” (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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