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Wayne Smith is stepping down from his All Blacks role, ending an extraordinary 20-year involvement with international rugby's No. 1 ranked team.

He will finish up as All Blacks assistant coach following the Rugby Championship later in the year.

New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew used a special press conference at Auckland Airport to make the announcement that Smith doesn't want to extend his current contract as an All Blacks assistant coach beyond the end of this season.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen also fronted the media announcement and paid tribute to Smith's contribution to New Zealand Rugby.

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Smith recently celebrated his 60th birthday and said the time was right to step down from fulltime coaching.

Wayne Smith - the All Blacks' Minister of Defence

'I've had an incredible time and shared in some fantastic experiences'

"It's unbelievable to think that I've been involved in playing and coaching with the All Blacks for 20 years, a third of my life. I've had an incredible time and shared in some fantastic experiences. But it's time to hang up my coach's whistle for a while, take a bit of a hiatus, freshen up and spend some more time with my wife Trish and our family."

Smith said there were a number of people he needed to acknowledge.

"First and foremost, I want to thank my family for allowing me the opportunity to do what I have done for so many years. I've never taken their support for granted and it's been huge for me.

"I want to thank Steve Tew, Steve Hansen and Gilbert Enoka who have been constants in my career since our Canterbury days. They've provided longstanding support and friendship for many years which I'm very thankful for. I'd also like to acknowledge Sir Graham Henry who gave me the opportunity to return to the All Blacks coaching set up in 2004. I really appreciated that, as well as the guidance he gave me.

'I've got the hunger today, I don't know if I can go on too much longer'

Smith said he's ready to refresh but still plans to do some work in rugby.

"I was a pretty brash young coach at times, and I was really driven to be successful. You learn every step of the way. I was really fortunate in my early All Black coaching career to have a couple of guys who were wise, and taught a young brash coach to slow down and find a bit of wisdom."

"I'm at the point after 20 years in black, whilst I've got the hunger today, I don't know if I can go on too much longer. I'm ready to refresh, take a sabbatical, recondition ... I might rotate back in to rugby at some point."

"It's not an easy decision to make when you love it. When you've got the feeling that it's soon time to go, you've got to go. So once I felt that inside I knew it was time to move on."

Wayne Smith celebrates the All Blacks 2011 RWC title with Kieran Read. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Wayne Smith celebrates the All Blacks 2011 RWC title with Kieran Read. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Hansen, who has won two World Cup titles with Smith, said he has plenty of respect for the departing assistant.

"I'd like to thank Wayne Smith for his contribution, not only to NZ Rugby on a whole but particularly the ABS. He has had a long association with the team as a player, a head coach for a while there, and as an assistant."

"He's always been a man I've hugely respected. I was lucky to meet him a few years ago when I was a young nipper. I even had the privilege of being sent home from training by him on one occasion."

"You have been a massive contributor to NZ Rugby and a wonderful ambassador."

"I knew I couldn't convince him to stay on when he went to my wife and said 'you've got to get him to stop pressurising me."

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"We've squeezed a few more years out of him and we're thankful for that."

Smith's first involvement with the All Blacks was a player.

 All Blacks player Wayne Smith in action during the Second Test match between Australia and New Zealand in 1984. Photo / Getty
All Blacks player Wayne Smith in action during the Second Test match between Australia and New Zealand in 1984. Photo / Getty

He turned out 18 times in black including 17 tests between 1980 and 1985.

He soon moved into a coaching role and was quickly dubbed "The Professor" by players intrigued with his analytical and tactical approach to modern rugby.

Smith was the Crusaders coach from 1997-99 he was the Crusaders Super 12 coach. Under his guidance the Crusaders won the title twice in 1998 and 99.

In each of these seasons he was also an assistant coach with the All Blacks and in 2000-01 he was the All Blacks' head coach.

Wayne Smith was head coach of the All Blacks in 2000 and 2001. Photo / Peter Meecham
Wayne Smith was head coach of the All Blacks in 2000 and 2001. Photo / Peter Meecham

Bitterly disappointed with a narrow Bledisloe Cup defeat to the Wallabies late in the 2001 season. Smith, partly through his own doing and that of NZRU board, conceded his All Black post to John Mitchell and instead moved to Britain to coach Northampton.

However after Graham Henry was appointed All Black coach for the 2004 season Smith, along with another Cantabrian Steve Hansen, joined All Black management as a selector and assistant coach.

Wayne Smith bio

Born in the Waikato town of Putaruru, Wayne Ross Smith trained as a teacher and moved to Christchurch to further his study and his rugby career. A sharp, running first five eighth, he made his debut for Canterbury in 1979 and went on to play 69 games through until 1985 in what was a golden era for the province. He made his All Blacks Test debut in 1980 against Australia and went on to play 35 games, including 17 Tests, over six years. He also played for and captained the New Zealand Sevens team.

After a stint playing and coaching overseas, he returned to New Zealand and into fulltime coaching. He coached the Crusaders to back-to-back Super Rugby championship titles in 1998 and 1999 and was also Assistant Coach of the All Blacks. He became All Blacks Head Coach for the 2000 and 2001 seasons before heading overseas to coach English club Northampton. He returned to the All Blacks in 2004, working alongside Head Coach Sir Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, helping coach the team to numerous victories, including the Rugby World Cup in 2011. He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) in 2012. The same year he became an Assistant Coach with the Chiefs Super Rugby team, helping the team to back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. He returned to the All Blacks for the victorious Rugby World Cup campaign in 2015.