Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

100 Greatest All Blacks: Johnny Smith

Wigan offered Johnny Smith 5000 (pounds sterling) to play league after the war, the equivalent of about five years wages in New Zealand.

For the Northland legend it was a fortune and when he chose to stay with his mates in rugby and suffered the unforgiveable exclusion on racial grounds from the '49 tour to South Africa, Smith must have wondered about his decision.

Listening to men who drooled about Smith's play was to hear of a centre who had golden dancing feet and a sporting mind which was too sharp for his rivals. Bert Cooke and JB Smith were men whose skills drew the most emphatic applause from Fred Allen. Smith was simply the best.

On the Kiwis tour of the UK in '45-'46, the wings scored 52 of the 124 tries scored while Smith claimed only six as he manouevred his wings into position.

Broadcaster Winston McCarthy jotted down how Smith used a move when games were in the balance.

"A move to the left, then a flick of the ball with his right foot back to the right with the opposition moving the wrong way. A dart through, take the ball in his right arm, transfer it to the left as he fended off the fullback and through for the try."

Those who saw Smith play for the Kiwis and all four of his tests against the Wallabies have dwindled and it was wretched fortune that Smith, a player with such vision, could lose his sight in his latter years.

Statistics
Date of birth: 25 September 1922
Position: Centre
Matches: 9
Tests: 4
Test debut: 14 September 1946 v Australia, Dunedin
Last test: 24 September 1949 v Australia, Auckland
Province: Northland
Test tries: 1
Test points: 6

- NZ Herald

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