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The science experiment behind Wayne Smith's winning schedule

By Ned Lester
Wayne Smith celebrates Black Ferns' World Cup victory. Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

Wayne Smith earned the nickname “The Professor” over his years in the All Blacks environment for his astute understanding of the game, the extent of his attention to detail has been further revealed in a recent interview.

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In a sit down with ex-All Black Jeff Wilson, Smith humbly accepted the award of ASB New Zealand Coach of the Year and discussed his approach with the Black Ferns, including a scientific understanding of how to schedule weeks during the World Cup to have his players in peak condition come game day.

While Smith initially joined the Black Ferns coaching staff in more of a mentorship role in early 2022, a review of the team exposed the leadership as unfit and before he knew it, The Professor had assumed the top job.

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“I saw it as an adventure,” Smith said of the promotion. “Every coaching experience you have is different but it’s always an adventure, it’s never the same.

“You know I’ve been to a few world cups with the All Blacks obviously, they were high-pressure environments. I was really keen on this one to change that and make it fun.

“Some of it was embedded in some work we did with the All Blacks years ago around hormonal balance needed to be at your best for the game, we did a lot of spitting into vials and there was scientists doing the research but essentially what I found out was early in the week you need to have a lot of laughter, get rid of the cortisol and enhance your recovery, and at the end of the week that’s when you build the testosterone to be great on the weekend.

“So, we looked at a program where up until Tuesday night we had a lot of fun, had a lot of excitement, a lot of innovation. We had club nights on a Tuesday night, we had a club captain, we didn’t have a lot of resource so we went and bought a blazer for her down at the op shop, got some pins on it and she ran it like a club night and it sort of spilled over into our game, where everyone saw it as a bit of an adventure and exciting to play this game.

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“We weren’t perfect at it, particularly early on but you could see the attacking intent and the courage to have a crack, even from our own goal line, if it was on, it was on and we just played and we backed our skills and so from that point of view, I would say it’s probably one of the best projects of my life, the most exciting anyway.”

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Speculation about Smith’s coaching future continues to murmur. He’ll head to Japan in January to work with Kolbe’s coaching team briefly before he and Sir Graham Henry fly to Tonga to deliver rugby equipment donated by the Chiefs and Auckland Rugby, in the hope of lifting the morale following the volcanic eruption and tsunami.

A head coaching role is off the table in Smith’s mind but he is leaving the door open to an assistant role, saying a position similar to the one Sir Graham Henry filled for the Black Ferns at the World Cup could suit him nicely.

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In the ten months that Smith led the Black Ferns team, the improvements were dramatic. While the coach admitted he wasn’t sure how the team would respond to his vision for how they were going to play, in the end, he realised he’d found the winning recipe.

“We became a professional team, it happened through the campaign, we became a high-quality, high-performance team, we started to look like one. So it was probably an evolution rather than a revolution, the revolution was the type of game we were going to play, the evolution was people buying into it and then producing a great output in their areas so that was really good to see.”

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