'Wonderful' Wayne Smith, All Blacks assistant coach, to step down 

Wayne Smith will leave after 20 years with the All Blacks Credit: Matthew Impey/REX Shutterstock

Wayne Smith, arguably the sharpest mind in rugby, has announced that he will step down from New Zealand’s coaching team at the conclusion of this year’s Rugby Championship in September.

Nicknamed “The Professor”, Smith has a 20-year association with the All Blacks as a player and then in three spells as a coach.

Having recently turned 60, Smith says now is the right time for him to walk away, although he left the door open for a return to rugby further down the line.

"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.”

Smith has long been seen as New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen’s right-hand man. As a double act they delivered the 2011 and the 2015 World Cups.

It could have been very different. In 2012, Smith, who had coached at Northampton between 2001 to 2004, was offered a role within the new England set-up under Stuart Lancaster but declined on account of his loyalty to the All Blacks.

He was again on the shortlist of candidates to replace Lancaster in 2015 before RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie made a beeline to Cape Town to appoint Eddie Jones.

New Zealand have announced that they will look to appoint his successor before the start of the Rugby Championship in August so there can be a handover period.

While New Zealand are spoilt for choice in terms of coaches, it will be difficult to recreate the same dynamic that Hansen has with Smith.

“I've been lucky to have spent a lot of time with Wayne Ross Smith over the years, firstly as a player being coached by him and, best of all, coaching alongside him with Canterbury, the Crusaders and the All Blacks,” Hansen said.

"He’s a man I have a huge amount of respect for and it's been an absolute pleasure working alongside him. However, it's an even greater honour to be able to call him a mate.

“He has an unrelenting passion for the game, he's always been innovative, prepared to speak his mind, and he's never allowed himself to stop learning.

"He's always been willing to share himself with others and be open to their ideas.

“Smithy has been a major contributor to not only New Zealand Rugby but also world rugby. Wayne has been such a wonderful ambassador for our game and our country as well.”