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The Test rookie touted by Conrad Smith for All Blacks selection

By Liam Heagney
Conrad Smith in action for the 2015 All Blacks (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Two-time Rugby World Cup winner Conrad Smith has named the rookie he would like to see incoming All Blacks boss Scott Robertson pick in the New Zealand midfield next month. The 42-year-old told RugbyPass that he has been following the Super Rugby Pacific season closely and wants the uncapped Billy Proctor to be given a run in his old outside centre Test position.

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It was 2019 when Proctor had his first taste of Super Rugby with the Hurricanes, Smith’s former franchise, and he has steadily build his reputation since then.

With just over three weeks to go before the All Blacks host England on Dunedin on July 6 in Robertson’s first Test in charge, the midfielder is poised to make his 12th appearance of the Hurricanes’ latest campaign when they host the Chiefs in Wellington in the Super Rugby semi-finals this Saturday.

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Asked were there many players he would recommend to the All Blacks on the back of the 2024 club season, Smith said: “A lot. I am trying to think which one I would single out.

“Billy Proctor, the 13 for Hurricanes, has been amazing and he will make the team. Whether he starts… Rieko (Ioane) is there and it would be very hard to push him out but that is my team [the Hurricanes], so I am obviously going to pick someone there. But he will be someone to watch.”

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This Proctor suggestion aside, Smith can’t wait to see what will unfold with Robertson at the helm after the Ian Foster era ended with last October’s Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa in Paris. “It’s exciting. He is different and he will bring something different to the team. Look, I’m excited by what he is going to do with the team.

“I have been excited by the rugby that is being played in New Zealand in Super Rugby. It has been outstanding this year so the players he needs to pick will all offer something. There will be a lot of changes and I am looking forward to that.”

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Eight months on from the loss in France, how are the New Zealand fans coping with that defeat? “It’s a good question. That is probably adding to the expectation around the new All Blacks team and how they want to bounce back from that disappointment.

“In general, going into that World Cup, strangely for New Zealand there wasn’t the expectation to win. Then it was like, ‘Well, they are going to win’ and then it was taken away. It was an unusual feeling across the rugby landscape in New Zealand after that tournament but now just excited to see a new team start.”

Talking about things new, the reason why RugbyPass recently caught up with Smith in London was the launch of Global Rugby Players Foundation, the charity he is involved with as one of its 10 founder members along with fellow former All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.

Having finished playing in 2018 after three seasons in France with Pau following the end of his Test career with victory in the 2015 World Cup final, these days Smith works as head of player welfare at the International Players’ Association.

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The new foundation has been created to help retiring players to better transition away from the game into new careers. This was a shift Smith was fortunate with as he had gone to university before committing himself fully to a career as a professional rugby player.

“I benefited from the fact that I entered the game a bit later,” he explained. “You see now the way into the game is particularly with academies at a young age. For me, I went to university, didn’t play my first professional game until I was 22. I benefited from that a lot because you develop as a person.

“You’re still a young man when you are playing rugby but to have those years outside of the bubble of rugby was something I really benefited from, so when I finished my career I had a law degree that helped but I also had a network of friends outside of rugby that I could go through that experience with and that was important.

“I had also spent a lot of time as a player thinking about retirement, working with the players’ association, talking about ways you could assist players. I had a good idea of the challenge but it’s another thing dealing with it. I still had visions around what I wanted to do but I was quite systematic in the way I approached it.”

Smith left with no regrets and wasn’t put out about having to find a new career after his celebrated time with the All Blacks. “We are competitive people so we always think about games that you have lost and things you could have done better to help a team. But no, in honesty, the main feeling is very lucky with the way my career went and the opportunities I got given. And even the opportunities that my career gave me to do this work now at the end of it.

“What came through from everyone (when setting up the foundation) is just that idea of leaving the game and how challenging it is to think of something new and to deal with everything that comes with it. And also to deal with the public. ‘What are you doing now?’ It’s almost the feeling or expectation that they are looking at you that you are retired, you almost don’t need to be doing anything whereas I was no, I want to do something. That was a challenge.

“Being in France, slipping into some anonymity, was something I enjoyed before finishing the game. And as I say, what I worked off was that I had an experience outside of the game before I started playing the game and I was really determined to use my law career in some way.”

Enhancing the business of rugby is something that will need to happen in the long run to enhance player welfare even more, but Smith is adamant the action on the pitch is top notch entertainment. “I don’t know if there is an easy answer to that [the finances], but I don’t worry about the game in terms of the product itself, what is being offered.

“There are issues around how to finance it, how to make it a product that pays its players and runs the game at community level and all those bigger questions. But the game itself; when I worry about those things, I come back to this – it’s a great game with great people involved whether that is playing or outside of it. That gives me confidence.”

Keeping his player welfare hat on, Smith added that he had been encouraged with the steps taken in recent years to add oomph to Pacific Island rugby, an enhancement he wants continued. “It’s really important; everyone enjoys watching them play,” he said. “What is being done for Pacific Island rugby the last few years has been really positive, the Drua and Moana Pasifika has definitely been a bonus.

“Giving them more Tests, which they are now doing with the Pacific Nations Cup, that is going to be significant for them. It’s going to be a long road and they are aware of the issues. Even around Moana and Drua, they would probably want to see more investment into those teams. But it’s a step in the right direction so that’s encouraging for future World Cups.”

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6 Comments
L
Lou Cifer 34 days ago

The Snake is a legend….brought tons of heartache to us Saffas😚 Nothing but respect! i’ll need to keep an eye on Proctor if he got these plaudits from Conrad

T
T-Bone 35 days ago

Proctor deserves to be in the squad
No chance Razor will break up the Jorko partnership for England given the exodus of players and injuries already

ALB is also playing great so can both of them make it in?

T
Troy 35 days ago

Great to hear one of the greats speak positively about the game and it's many challenges. To hear him endorse Billy Proctor in his old position and speak of “my team” is good stuff for us fans. Him and Nonu grew to be the best in the world, let's hope Jordie and Billy can be half as good.
Go the Hurricanes!

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