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'That could be it': All Blacks great Ben Smith on verge of retirement

By Sam Smith
(Photo by STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks star Ben Smith says he may be on the verge of retirement as the Japan Rugby League One season draws to a close.

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Smith is currently plying his trade in Japan after being called up for a second spell at the Kobelco Kobe Steelers midway through this season following a year-long stint with the club in 2021.

The 36-year-old outside back has been limited to just one appearance for the Steelers since arriving back in Kobe last month, coming off the bench in a 37-31 defeat at the hands of the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights in Kumagaya two weeks ago.

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After having recently recovered from Covid, Smith is now eligible for action again as the League One season enters the final fortnight of its regular season.

Given seventh-placed Kobelco are out of semi-final contention with two games to play, next two weekends may also present Smith with his final two matches of his rugby career.

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times, Smith said he is weighing up the prospect of hanging up the boots for good once Kobelco’s season wraps up against Israel Folau’s NTT Communications Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu next Sunday.

“In another couple of weeks, I will sort of weigh it up, and retirement could definitely be on the cards,” Smith told the Otago Daily Times.

“I’ve had a pretty good run. So that could be it.

“This is a hard game to give up, and to say ‘that’s me, I’m done’ is something that is still a hard one to get across in my own head.

“At the same time, I’m looking forward to the challenge of whatever might come next, and getting a real job for a change.”

Should Smith indeed decide to call time on his playing career and embark on “getting a real job”, he would end one of the great modern-day careers in which he attended two World Cups and played 84 tests for the All Blacks between 2009 and 2019.

A key member of the 2015 World Cup-winning All Blacks side, Smith also co-captained the Highlanders to their first, and only, Super Rugby title seven years ago, and left the franchise in 2019 as its most-capped player ever with 153 appearances.

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That feat has since been claimed by current Highlanders skipper Aaron Smith, but the older Smith remains an iconic figure in the Highlanders and Otago regions, having played 44 times for his province.

A 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist with the All Blacks Sevens, Smith went on to enjoy a brief spell with French club Pau during the 2019-20 season before linking up with Kobelco ahead of the 2021 Top League campaign.

Now, however, Smith is eager to put family first after a decade-and-a-half of professional rugby that has taken him to all corners of the globe.

“The family will definitely be the big factor in whatever I decide to do,” the father-of-three told the Otago Daily Times.

“I’m quite keen to coach a bit of their rugby and follow them round. I had a wee taste of that last year, and getting your weekends back and being able to do stuff with the family would be great.”

Kobelco will host the Yokohama Canon Eagles in Kobe on Sunday before closing their season against the Shining Arcs in an away match next week.

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