April 28, 2012
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New Zealand desperate to keep Smith

New Zealand rugby is "desperately keen" to keep former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith from England's clutches and is preparing a counter-bid to retain the master tactician, its top official said.

Smith -- the All Blacks' assistant coach for their World Cup win last year -- is expected to decide in the next week whether to accept England coach Stuart Lancaster's offer to join his staff through to the 2015 tournament.

Smith is currently working with the Waikato Chiefs in the Super 15 competition and Lancaster flew to Durban last week when the Chiefs were in South Africa to lay out his vision for him.

When Smith revealed the offer was under serious consideration, the New Zealand Rugby Union swung into action.

"We're certainly not going to leave him without other options to consider," New Zealand rugby chief executive Steve Tew told reporters.

"Going is just one. We're desperately keen to keep him in New Zealand, no doubt about that."

Smith was considered "an incredibly important asset to New Zealand rugby, not just the All Blacks", Tew said, but conceded it would not be easy to keep him.

"It's quite a complex issue and, as always with Smithy, he's been very open and honest with us. We're dead keen to find a solution, but there's no easy one."

Smith is no stranger to English rugby, having guided Northampton for three years before joining up as assistant to All Blacks head coach Graham Henry for eight years through to their World Cup success.

He was previously New Zealand's chief coach himself, in 2000-2001.

The All Blacks are scheduled to play England on their northern hemisphere tour at the end of the year and Smith said that would come into consideration when he made a decision on his future.

"Having put the last eight years of my life into coaching the All Blacks and trying to win the World Cup, I'm going to have to search inside myself to see whether I could coach a team against them," he said.

"Particularly a team that has a coach in Stuart Lancaster who has real clarity of vision and knows what he wants.

"I think he's going to turn them into a force so it's not just going to any team, it's going to a team that over time will potentially challenge the All Blacks, so I've got to be clear in my mind that I could be a part of that."

Although Smith is currently on a two-year deal with the Chiefs, he has an early exit clause in his contract that would allow him to leave at the end of this Super 15 season.

AFP

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