Ben Smith Nasi Manu ‘championship combo’ to inspire 2023 Highlanders

Ben Smith Nasi Manu 'championship combo' to inspire 2023 Highlanders

The Ben Smith Nasi Manu ‘championship combo’ who took the side to the franchise’s only Super Rugby title, have been assigned key management roles to inspire the 2023 Highlanders squad.

Highlanders head coach Clarke Dermody will welcome the pair to both senior roles in the administration, but more likely in how they each work with players. Having the two on hand will help Dermody, assistants Tom Donnelly, Dave Dillon, Richard Whiffin, and Riki Flutey to fulfill the Highlander’s 2023 objectives.

Manu (34), who co-captained the team with Smith (36) to a Super Rugby Championship in 2015, has joined in an operations and player-mentoring role. Manu; who battled cancer in 2019 before returning to play for Tonga and Otago, also played for mid-Canterbury in this year’s Heartland Championship.

Smith has recently completed his last term in the Japanese professional rugby league, as well as his longstanding association with his beloved Green Bay rugby club. At a recent book release, Smith explained his ambitions. “I’m just looking to learn from the coaches that are here. It’s just a part-time role. It’s funny because I’ve gone from coaching under-5s and under-7s to doing a wee bit with Otago and now the Highlanders. I know I’ve got a lot to learn.

“But it’s a great opportunity, and hopefully I can pass on some stuff and help our outside backs.”

In the Highlanders media release, it stated how ‘Ben Smith has already dabbled in coaching having worked with the Otago NPC Squad during the 2022 NPC season and is looking to extend that experience with the Highlanders. He will be working with the team for two days a week focusing on the back three counter-attack’.

Ben Smith Nasi Manu ‘championship combo’ to inspire 2023 Highlanders

The Ben Smith Nasi Manu duo have over 200 games in Highlanders’ colours and their collective presence around the clubrooms should provide the class of ’23 with all the support they need. Head coach Clarke Dermody was keen to utilize Smith’s knowledge if possible.

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“Ben has only just retired from a great rugby career, and I knew he probably wasn’t likely to want to commit all his time to coaching straight away. As one of world rugby’s best counterattackers from fullback, he understands the role of the back three in detail and the knowledge he will be able to impart to our players will be invaluable” – though Smith is only available part-time, and Last Word on Sport are not sure if Smith or Manu will travel to any Highlanders away fixtures out of New Zealand.

“Good to have finalized the coaching team, who I know are all very eager to get on with the job come late November when the players arrive. I am delighted with the mix of skills, innovation and experience contained within the group and excited about the possibilities of 2023” said Dermody.

Nasi Manu’s role is likely to be very much more hands-on. Still at an age where he can influence the playing group, as much as the entire culture of the ‘club’. A genuine players-player, working along with Smith and the other coaches, might be the ingredient that gels this season’s team to emulate the heights achieved in 2015.

The 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season begins February 24.


New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and Rugby Australia (RA) have announced details of a new joint-venture agreement for Super Rugby Pacific.

Speaking in Sydney, Chief executives Mark Robinson and Andy Marinos each heralded the new partnership, which will extend the existing joint venture from 2024 to 2030, as a significant moment for professional club rugby in the Pacific region.

Read more here.



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