Interview with Conrad Smith
Conrad Smith is currently playing Rugby in the French premier competition (Top 14) for Pau (Section Paloise). Conrad recently retired from New Zealand rugby but he was a key leader and member of the All Blacks tallying an impressive 94 caps. He also helped the team secure two World Cup victories in 2011 and 2015. Leadership appointments he has held are captain of the Hurricanes at Super Rugby level (126 caps) and he also played provincial rugby for Wellington.
Along with an impressive Rugby CV Conrad has completed a Law degree and made a massive impact outside of Rugby. Early on he recognised how Rugby careers can be short so he has never taken his for granted. He has always a willingness to help others. For example he spent time in Kenya helping refugees effected by tribal violence.
His family play the most important role in his life and recognises his wife Leanne and son as a key part to his happiness. He also has a good group of friends that support him and keep him grounded through the famous pub club monthly meetings.
We recently caught up with Conrad to ask him how he was getting on in France, to tell his story and give a few tips to those aspiring rugby players for the future.
Can you tell us about your experience in France so far and how you came to the decision to play for Pau?
I have been in Pau for 10 months and the family and I absolutely love it. I knew I would enjoy the lifestyle and the reduced travel, but the rugby has been great and I’m really enjoying the new club and the Top 14 competition.
How has a change in environment and culture helped your Rugby?
Well I’m contemplating playing for another year, which is something I wouldn’t have considered if I had stayed in New Zealand. I think the new challenges and new environment has rejuvenated me a lot but also the season over here is much more enjoyable for me, late in my career. I spend a lot more time at home and the demands outside of the game are considerably less.
Can you please expand a little on work you are doing outside of Rugby, business interests or hobbies?
At the moment I am just enjoying the extra time at home, spending a lot of time with my son so my wife can finish her studies, which she is completing extramurally. Other than that it has just been enjoying the French culture, the language, the love of food and putting family before work.
In New Zealand Rugby you established yourself as a leader, how have you managed to continue being a leader with the language barrier?
It has certainly been a challenge. When arriving at the club I was careful to just observe and settle in before trying to offer anything. I also think a lot of leadership is shown through actions and behaviours and I figured that was the best way for me to offer leadership. Now that I am a little more comfortable in the environment it helps that a lot of the team understand a little English and they are all patient with my French!
Your coach Simon Mannix said when he is recruiting he looks at the man, who he is off the field. You have a lot going on outside of Rugby and you once missed an important test match for the birth of your Son (congratulations). What else would you put ahead of a test match or Rugby?
My family is the obvious answer to that. That is why I moved over here and why I’m enjoying life here so much. I probably have 3 more months at home than what I had playing in NZ. Rugby provides plenty of life highlights but they all fall well short of what your family can offer. I also know that rugby will disappear pretty quickly when I retire whereas my family are for life so that is where my priorities will always lie.
You have overcome adversity and setbacks like breaking your leg but have often been called “world class”. What has been the most difficult part of your career so far and what did you learn from it? (doesn’t have to be rugby related)
Injuries are definitely the hardest part within rugby. Mainly because you have to face the challenge alone, which is hard when you love a team environment. I suppose I learnt the value of looking after your body, but I also learnt to not take my career for granted. It is just a game and it can be taken away very quickly so it’s best to just enjoy it and not take it too seriously.
Some rapid fire questions
What advice would you give to your 20 year old self?
Well I was a full time student at 20 so I would tell myself to keep studying and be patient. Every sporting career starts differently. Even if it doesn’t work out there are plenty of other ways to enjoy your life.
What two exercises would you say are a must in a Rugby players training regime?
I’m not sure about exercises but fitness and speed are becoming more and more important. The way the game is going, rugby will be played faster and with the ball in play for longer periods. All players are going to have to be faster than in the past and maintain that speed for longer periods.
Any tips on developing speed?
I think what I have learnt over the past couple of years. Is that speed isn’t just a 10m sprint. It is more about power/explosiveness, and not just on your feet. A lot of gym work isn’t concerned with heavy weights anymore, its the ability to move weight as fast as possible. That relates to the game more and is something that every player, in every position has to work on.
You have been an All Black, completed a Law degree and started a family, what is next for Conrad Smith?
Well I’m pretty keen to keep enjoying life in France by helping my club win rugby games. Also to be a good Dad for my family. I’m also determined to give a couple of media interviews in French before I’m done!
A proven strategy to increasing repetitive speed is interval training. Now we are not talking about the pansy stuff down at the local gym with the local trainer. We are talking about work that feels like you are going to faint or spew.
ProRugby Club Tips on developing repetitive SPEED
One testing method for developing this used at a Professional level is the brutal phosphate decrement test. 10 x 40m sprints with 30seconds to complete each run. So 30seconds to do the first 40m sprint. If you complete it in 4.5seconds you have 25seconds rest. You want to really push yourself. Try to repeat the time you ran in the 1st sprint through the following 9 sprints. My experience with the PDT is that the closer my time at the start and end the fitter I was. Beware if you push yourself hard enough you will feel sick as I did.
We like to add simple things to help you workout. Try to finish your weights session with a simple rowing interval or bike interval. 10 x 40 seconds sprints with a 20sec rest or spin. Quick and easy to complete but effective if done with the right attitude.
For on the field after Tuesday or Thursday training. Something that has worked for us is 6 x 80m sprints on a 40 second turnaround x 3-5 sets. Or our beloved 80 – 60 – 40m sprints x6 walk back recovery. Start on try line, run out to the far 22m line, run back to the opposite 22m line turn and run to opposite 40m line ( or 10m line).