Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Mr Smith goes to Washington

Seven years of study pay off for a North Harbour star with a golden opportunity to combine his love of law and rugby

Chris Smith has played 50 games for North Harbourl now he's off to work with the NFL. Photo / Getty Images
Chris Smith has played 50 games for North Harbourl now he's off to work with the NFL. Photo / Getty Images

Like the tortoise and hare fable, slow and steady delivers rewards. It was circumstance for Chris Smith as he pursued a rugby career which ran parallel to his law studies.

There were several seasons with the Junior All Blacks, stints with the Blues and more than 50 games for North Harbour, mainly at lock.

Around that love of rugby, Smith chipped away at his law degree, and after seven years of part-time graft and a year for his professional exams he was admitted to the bar a few months ago.

While doing some of his practical work on the collective negotiations for the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association, Smith mentioned that he would like to work in the United States under the recent graduates' scheme.

General manager Rob Nichol had a few contacts and after some inquiries, Smith left last night to work in Washington DC with the NFL Players' Association's legal team.

He also intends to continue his rugby career and hopes to link up with former Takapuna clubmate Marty Veale, who is involved with the New York Old Blue side.

"He sent me a picture of all the snow in New York and told me to enjoy my last few days of summer," Smith said.

"I made sure I watched the Super Bowl to know what was going on but after that result all I need to say is something about a blow-out."

Smith had a mate who worked as a graduate in the US, and figured it would suit him as well.

"I thought I would take advantage of my situation and it is really exciting to be working in the States and also being able to play rugby there. It is a chance to work there and not go away from rugby completely.

"I am there definitely for eight months, and then I have a few other options.

"I'm not closing the door on any options and I would still like to play for Harbour again in the future."

The NFL has 105 employees and Smith will be part of the players' association legal team.

"They are governed a lot by their collective agreement so it will be a lot of maintenance of that and legal counsel, but apart from that broad spectrum I don't know any specifics about the job."

Smith suspects he will be drawn into the rising debates and claims about concussion which will be useful research for the NZRPA and its work on the topic in New Zealand.

"The best thing when you tell people what you are about to do is their look of amazement. It is not something you hear of every day and especially adding in the rugby in the weekends in New York - that is a great addition," said Smith.

The Old Blues club has a strong base and one of its members, Adam Siddal, played at Takapuna a few years ago and is now the Eagles starting five eighths.

Smith said his visa allowed him to play club rugby but nothing more.

He hoped to be in the US when the All Blacks play a match on their way to Europe on their end-of-year tour.

"I just want to help where I can and get involved with the game whether that is coaching kids or whatever as part of trying to grow the game," he said.

"It is just a great time. It took me seven years to get my degree and then do the bar exams after that while playing some rugby. I wouldn't change anything about it.

"This is not something I can put on hold because the visa is a once-in-a- lifetime chance and to get that working with the NFL organisation, is an amazing opportunity.

"The thing about studying law and meeting people along the way, it reaffirms that it can take you in a lot of directions.

"It teaches you a way to think which is good for specialist, corporate or employment law practice. It teaches you to think broadly and can take you all sorts of places."

For Smith, that destination is the NFL legal headquarters, about a block from the White House.

- NZ Herald

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