Humble rugby star Conrad Smith relishing French hospitality
PAU (FRANCE) – New Zealand international centre Conrad Smith says French hospitality has taken him by surprise since arriving in the southwest to join Pau.
Pau’s center Conrad Smith won 94 New Zealand caps during a glorious international career that brought him two world titles
But accepting the generosity of rugby fans at the foot of the Pyrenees has also brought with it unfortunate rumours for the World Cup winning former-All Black.
“I enjoy wine but not to the extent that has been portrayed by the media,” joked the 34-year-old, who won 94 New Zealand caps during a glorious international career that brought him two world titles.
“French hospitality is so good that people I don’t know are giving me bottles of red wine to try, but I can’t! If I did, I’d be an alcoholic!”
Smith joined second division champions Pau after last year’s World Cup alongside fellow New Zealander Colin Slade, who moved from the Crusaders.
“The reason I came here was to do something different and it’s exactly what I’ve experienced,” said Slade, 28.
“(There are) slight differences that have made (for) an exciting challenge.”
Slade played just 21 times for the All Blacks from 2010-2015, alternating between fly-half and centre, but was part of both World Cup winning squads, like Smith.
Smith’s last action for the Hurricanes was in losing the Super Rugby final to fellow New Zealanders the Highlanders.
After that he agreed to join Pau under the guidance of compatriot Simon Mannix, who helped him overcome the language barrier.
“It helps obviously with the language the first few weeks because it was very difficult having the connections with some of the players, but the French boys have been really accommodating,” said Smith.
Pau have not enjoyed the most impressive season back in the Top 14 after a nine-year hiatus, but with two games of the regular season left, they are at least safe from relegation, sitting 11th and 19 points ahead of Oyonnax in 13th.
They’re even one place above reigning champions Stade Francais, whose season has been a disaster.
– Top 6 target –
“I think obviously the goal was to stay up and the prospect of relegation was at the doorstep,” said Smith of his first season at Pau.
“Now we have secured ourselves for next season, we’ve played a rugby to give the club a bit of belief we can beat some of the good sides and really compete.
“For myself, I can’t see any reason the side we’ve got can’t challenge for the top six (next season).”
His language skills may not be the most impressive but Smith has settled in well with his new teammates, and delighted fans too when selling an outrageous dummy to former All Black centre partner Ma’a Nonu before scoring a try — converted by Slade — against Toulon back in January.
Pau captain Julien Pierre said at times he had to pinch himself when looking across the changing room and seeing Smith’s face.
“Three weeks after Conrad arrived I was looking at him in the changing room and it seemed to me that he’d been here for six months,” said Pierre.
“Double world champion but in his attitude there was nothing that gave it away, except how demanding he was in training.”
Having the two former All Blacks in the group has been a source of motivation for the rest of the squad.
“It gives us a positive dynamic and when they say something, everyone wants to follow them,” added Pierre.
Mannix, for his part, has been pleased with his countrymen.
“You can’t find fault with their commitment both on and off the pitch — they’re big names in New Zealand rugby — and that’s exactly what I expected,” he said.
“They’re here to work hard and take this club forward, and over the first six months, things have really been heading in the right direction.”