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Smith steps up as opportunity knocks

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Sportal.co.nz     04 Jun 2012     Getty Images

He came into the 2012 Investec Super Rugby season with the aim of getting starts for the Highlanders.

"I just wanted to try and keep Jimmy [Cowan] out of the job. I had the fight on my hands each week to try and start for the Highlanders and then [the prospect of being an All Black] it didn't really kick in until I got to those training camps and thinking 'Maybe I could have a shot here' but I didn't want to get too excited as well as there was some pretty good players there," he said.

"I think I was just lucky I got the nod to be honest."

I'm very happy and hope to make them proud and pay them back for picking me," he said.

Like all players, his elevation is not purely on luck. He does a lot of work on his passing, especially developing the wrist strength which he rates as crucial. He can thank his father for the advice that if he wanted to play halfback he should be able to pass off both hands.

"There was a little bit of self-teaching and watching a lot of footie helped. I was always trying to mirror what my right hand was doing," he said.

Another factor was the help he received at Feilding High School - where he played in the same 1st XV as the Whitelock brothers - from former South African halfback Joggie Viljoen who was playing for Manawatu at the time. He helped Smith with his wrist skills and he felt the quality of his pass, and its accuracy, improve from that stage.

Then once getting into the Manawatu side coach Dave Rennie rounded out his growth. Rennie's qualities were the fact that he was able to get his message across while also getting the best out of players.

"He pretty much developed my game from where it was to where it is now and obviously Jamie [Highlanders coach Joseph] has added a little bit more to my defensive side. Renns was always good for my attacking side and what to look for and looking for certain pictures and being able to react to the pictures I see. I owe him a lot for that and the way I look at the game now and break down certain things is what I learnt from him," he said.

Playing alongside Viljoen at Manawatu level also helped, especially in his off-balance passing. Smith also found that attention to weight training and core development helped his passing length even more.