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11 October 2023
Wayne Smith helping the Black Ferns perform a rugby miracle in 2022. Photo: Getty Images

Phil Gifford relates some of the story behind working on Sir Wayne Smith’s book, Smithy: Endless Winters and the Spring of ’22 (out now) and the inner workings of a man who has been involved in the thick of the All Blacks and rugby in general for over 40 years.

New Zealand rugby fans, and Wayne Smith himself, were surprised when he suddenly rocketed from being a mentor to head coach of the 2022 Black Ferns.

So was I, and it was almost as startling to me when, two months after he began work with the Ferns, I got a text from Wayne saying, “I’ve always said I wouldn’t do a book, but maybe it’s a project I need.”

For six years, I’d texted or emailed to wish him happy birthday from my wife and me, adding a postscript saying ‘didn’t he think it was time he did a book?’ He’d always reply, saying thanks for the birthday wishes, but adding that I was “a persistent bugger” and he wasn’t doing a book.

By the happiest of chances, his reluctance meant that when, in April of this year, we sat down to work on his autobiography, Smithy, together, there was a new, hugely enjoyable story to add: the Ferns’ triumph at the 2022 Rugby World Cup.

The Ferns, a strong-willed, gutsy group of women who had made their own way in the rugby world, often with, at best, benign neglect from NZR, proved to be a perfect match for Wayne – someone who, in a quiet, understated way, has always been a rugby revolutionary.

With the assistance of a group of coaching luminaries who were also his friends, he tipped the style the Ferns were playing on its head.

“No wonder,” co-captain Ruahei Demant told me, “they call him ‘The Professor’.”

Writing the book with Wayne was as fascinating as I’d hoped.

Continue this story in our October issue - out now!

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