Snake sizes up threat of Irish midfield

All Black centre Conrad is wary of O'Driscoll danger

Des Berry

You could be forgiven for thinking he earned his nickname for the way he slides through defences. You would be wrong.

You could be forgiven for thinking he earned it for his willingness to wait for all enemies in the long grass. Once again, you would be wrong.

Conrad Smith was given his nickname 'Snake' by his high school cricket coach at Francis Douglas Memorial College in New Plymouth for the way he would slither and slide to the ball in the outfield.

"That is why I was given it. Maybe, it stuck for other reasons," he laughed when speaking to the Evening Herald on behalf of Adidas, the official partner to the All Blacks.

Conscious of Ireland's sub-standard form, Smith is wary: "Going into the game, we are aware of a lot of the threats the Irish pose, especially for me marking (Brian) O'Driscoll and some of the other backs, who are some of the better ones you will face in this part of the world.


"As a player, your form is never far away. It can turn very quickly. The best payback is winning the game. Ireland has one of the best midfields in the world. They have class there and they could turn it on.

"Last year, in the Tri-Nations, we lost three games to South Africa. That was a low point for most of us. We turned that around to have a clean sweep of them this year. It doesn't take long to make things happen."

At present, Smith is rated the first-choice outside centre for New Zealand ahead of Isaia Toeava and the hard-charging Sonny-Bill Williams in what is an area cluttered with envious options.

"We are never short of competition in New Zealand," said Smith. "That is what has served us so well in the past.

"There are always plenty of people breathing down your neck."

Smith is not about to slide away because of all the 'hoopla' and hysteria around the transfer of Williams from Rugby League, where he was the biggest star in the National Rugby League (NRL) in Australia, before defecting to Union and French life for a while in Toulon.

"I learned from my first few years not to worry about anyone else," he said, ahead of uniting with his long-time centre partner Ma'a Nonu this evening.

"If you are playing well that is all you can do. It is the coach's decision.

"If he wants to go with someone else, if he wants something different, then that is fine by me. It is more about when you are playing badly, you are letting yourself down."

What difference do you bring? "I play to my size capabilities. I am not someone who breaks the line at will.

"I rely more on work-rate, reading things off other guys.

"I enjoy playing with Ma'a and Sonny, understanding what they are seeing and trying to react off that rather than looking for something for myself."

A thinking man's player, Smith holds a degree in law from Victoria University in Wellington and spends what time he can gather together outside the game working at a law firm there.


"I don't think about the game any more than anyone else. But, maybe, I have to find different ways to be effective," he admitted, surrounded by the bulk of replacement Williams and Nonu.

The pressure of being an All Black is always present and their greatest burden is that of overwhelming World Cup favourites.

"At the last World Cup, I would have thought we had the best possible squad and it didn't count," he added. "We learned a lot from that. There is a core group of guys among us now who were there then."

Are you on a hiding to nothing if you don't win the World Cup?

"Yeah," he said. "No doubt".

Win or wither -- that is pressure.