All Blacks great returns to the rugby pitch, this time with a whistle in hand

David Skippers
Conrad Smith former All Blacks centre image.jpg

Former All Blacks centre Conrad Smith.

After an illustrious career as a player, legendary New Zealand and Hurricanes centre Conrad Smith has made a radical change by taking up refereeing in New Plymouth.

Smith, who played in 94 Tests for the All Blacks and represented the Hurricanes in 126 matches, started his refereeing career this season and has officiated in schoolboy and women’s rugby matches in Taranaki Rugby’s tournaments.

The two-time Rugby World Cup winner, whose playing career came to an end in 2018 after a three-year stint at Top 14 outfit Pau, revealed that he was always interested in how rugby’s laws influence the game and the repercussions of changing them.

Did not think he would be a referee

The former All Blacks star admitted that it never crossed his mind to take up the whistle but that all changed this year.

Smith is the current head of player welfare and high performance at World Rugby’s International Rugby Players organisation and through that position he has had lots of interaction with match officials and their managers, and the game’s laws are often talking points.

“Conversations naturally lead to discussion around how challenging laws are to actually apply, so I thought I’d give it a try,” he told Stuff.

Smith is not the first former player to take up refereeing and he follows in the footsteps of the likes of ex-Chiefs fly-half Glen Jackson and former Harlequins scrum-half Karl Dickson, who both hung up their boots to take up the whistle.

However, unlike the aforementioned duo, who have represented New Zealand and England respectively as referees in the international arena, Smith does not want to referee at a high level but enjoys playing a part in some “good, free-flowing rugby.”

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“I’ll only keep doing it while I enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t have the time to commit to it every week.”

The 42-year-old is obviously enjoying his new role and the positive associated with refereeing.

“I’ve loved being involved in the game and watching some great footy,” said Smith.

“I’ve also been lucky that all the players have been very supportive, even when they haven’t agreed with my calls.”

Taranaki Rugby Referees Association chairman Lionel Shaw is delighted that Smith is still adding value to the game in the form of refereeing.

‘Huge boost’ for refereeing

“To have someone of Conrad’s standing and mana within rugby, contributing to the game and the referee cause within Taranaki is a huge boost to the refereeing ranks,” he said.

“The fact too that Conrad is refereeing secondary school players, those players he is officiating are surrounded by someone who has done it all as a player in the game, therefore it can only have a positive spin off.”

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