The Next Great Thing in Waiting

By Chris Rattue

The Next Great Thing ... It's a dangerous label, and one which has suddenly been stuck on David Smith with an adhesion the Bay of Plenty defenders found difficult applying to the Auckland wing last Sunday.

We all love to witness the full blast of unannounced talent. It's like the invigorating promise of spring. It promotes the most satisfying of sports adventures, the prospect of an exhilaratingly new sight to enjoy.

It's also a quest that can take you down paths of disappointment. Ma'a Nonu was The Next Great Thing, until the magnifying glass was put on his game. He's now on hold. Rupeni Caucaunibuca was THE Next Great Thing, but not great at enough things - like turning up in shape, or turning up at all.

"I need to be humble now - I'm still young - and perform well, show everything I've got," said Smith, before an Auckland training session yesterday.

"My dream is to play for the Blues, and maybe two years later for the All Blacks. That's my dream."

The young Samoan has already been touched by greatness. The legendary All Black wing and Ponsonby club linchpin Bryan Williams brought Smith to New Zealand 3 years ago, and has guided him. "I'd train Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and he would say to me, 'You need a rest,"' says Smith of the former Manu Samoa coach.

Smith, 20, is a 90kg stocky rocket on Auckland's left wing who has exploded outside of the national age grade galaxy.

Williams alerted Auckland coach Pat Lam to Smith. He was included in wider squad trainings and played for Auckland B last year, and has starred for Auckland sevens.

Smith comes from a non-rugby family with German origins - some of the family still have the name Schmidt - who hail from the village of Manase. He was christened David after a New Zealand preacher who stayed with the family for a year. One of his relatives, the late Sonny Schmidt, was a world-class bodybuilder.

Smith says Williams spotted him when he played wing and fullback for a touring Samoan junior team and he was then offered a scholarship with Mt Albert Grammar.

Shane Howarth, the Auckland assistant coach and former test fullback, pays particular tribute to lock Bradley Mika for helping Smith to deal with the language hurdle. "We coaches don't even understand some of the modern rugby language," laughed Howarth. "So it is difficult for someone who has English as a second language. David is working very hard on his English.

"David felt he wasn't soaking up a lot of the information when he first got here. In those situations, it's easy for people to think, 'That bloke isn't listening.' He was an instinctive player, very individual, wanting everyone to get the ball to him and then he would do everything.

"He's now hunting for the ball. He needs to be able to use his instincts within structures. The really pleasing thing is that three months ago, he wouldn't have scored the tries he did on Sunday - and he wouldn't have put Brent Ward away.

"He popped up for two tries on the right wing, and supported Sammy Tuitupou's midfield break. He's doing bloody well."

Tactics aside, increasing Smith's long-range speed is a work in progress. He has startling acceleration over 10 to 15 metres, but there are extremely high speed standards in the Joe Rokocoko era.

Besides the guiding hands of Williams and others, Smith's parents moved to Auckland last year to lend support.

Lam believes Smith's emergence is further evidence that Auckland's academy system is under-rated. The aim was to produce professional footballers, Lam said, rather than judging success primarily on national age-grade selections.

"David's developed well but he's still only young.

"It's important we keep him grounded and he keeps developing. He has come from the islands and this is a big step up, but his whole attitude is outstanding.

"He has been a star for the sevens and it's now about learning the finer points.

"At club level, you can get away with being an individual. He has the potential to go all the way."

'Beegee' Williams replied, "No question - he has it all," when the Herald asked him this year if Smith would be an All Black. Power, speed, a sidestep, a fend, aggression.

For now, David Smith is The Next Great Thing in Waiting. Then again, when you see talent like that, it is difficult to wait...

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