Thursday 13 December 2018

All Blacks legend Wayne Smith reveals cancer diagnosis and that he will mentor Italy coaches

Wayne Smith stepped down from his position with New Zealand last year. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Wayne Smith stepped down from his position with New Zealand last year. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Charlie Morgan

Former New Zealand coach Wayne Smith has revealed that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and that he will undertake a mentoring role with Italy following an operation to remove the affected gland.

Smith, 60, ended a 20-year association with the All Blacks at the end of The Rugby Championship in October. However, he explained that he was aware of his illness throughout that farewell tournament after an MRI scan "showed up some tumours".

Speaking exclusively to and keen to share his story to raise awareness, Smith said that his local doctor in Cambridge, Waikato, had detected abnormalities.

"I was getting the blood tests about every six months," he explained. "It was high PSA [prostate specific antigen] levels that initially alerted the doctor.

"High levels don't automatically mean you've got cancer, but it is an alert, and it led to me getting a digital exam, and he then thought: 'Hmm..there's a hard spot there.' Could [have been] nothing, but he sent me to the urologist."

Smith spoke to his wife, Trish, and made the decision to keep his predicament secret.

"We had a wee chat. I said: 'Look, it's curable, so let's take our time, get a few tests.' I had a bit of footy to coach, so I was trying to juggle both things, and tried not to think about it too much really.

"Through the Rugby Championship I knew I had it, but I didn't really talk to anyone [on the All Blacks staff]. The only one was the team doctor, Tony Page, and I didn't even tell him.

"I just said I was struggling to sleep, and he gave me some great advice: 'Just think about the past, not the future, then your mind won't be too active.'

"That was great, because sometimes I had been lying there at night thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here?' But after talking to Tony I was able to handle it pretty well. The urologist wasn't too worried because it was pretty slow moving. That was the line I took."

Opting for surgery, Smith had a pre-operation CT scan that, thankfully, showed that the cancer was restricted to his prostate. After going under the knife for a prostatectomy on December 11, he has been delighted with the results.

"It easier than some of the rugby injuries I've had. I was out of the hospital after a day and a half, at home walking around and recovering really early."

Smith's next move has been a subject of huge intrigue around the rugby world, and he is intent on fulfilling "a couple of little projects I started arranging immediately".

"I'm going to help the Kobe Steelers club in Japan," Smith added. "They have a relationship with the Chiefs, and I'm going to have an involvement with the coaches at Kobe and get a bit of coaching in from time to time.

"I'll also be doing two to three weeks with the Italian national team coaches over the year. I'll attend a couple of camps to have a mentoring-type role with Conor O'Shea and Mike Catt. I have a real passion for Italy, its people and their rugby, so Trish and I are looking forward to getting back there now and again."


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