All Black legend set to retire at end of season
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: All Blacks legend Conrad Smith has confirmed he will hang up his boots at the end of the season after three seasons with Top 14 club Pau.
Smith was enticed to France at the end of 2015, calling time on an international career that brought him two World Cups and 94 caps for New Zealand.
The 36-year-old, a qualified lawyer, said he was ready to end his playing career and concentrate on player advocacy.
Smith, whose rugby smarts extended his international career in the centres despite pressure from younger contenders, also revealed he was considering coaching.
"I'm going to finish up this year and I think I will spend a year or two either doing a little bit of work with International Rugby Players, but also within rugby itself and the coaching set-up and see what I like," he told Irish website The42.
Meanwhile, Smith added his voice to a growing chorus of New Zealanders calling for fellow Kiwi Schmidt to be given a shot at coaching the national side after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
"He's doing great with Ireland, he's someone who could potentially come back and coach the All Blacks, there's a few [candidates] around," Smith told reporters in Ireland.
"It's not an outrageous thought and even before now, the last two or three years, he was already talked about as someone we'd love to have back."
Schmidt took over Ireland in 2013 and masterminded their first-ever victory over the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016.
He has guided them to three Six Nations titles in five years, including this year's Grand Slam, which was sealed by a famous St. Patrick's Day win over England at Twickenham.
Both Schmidt and Hansen's contracts end after the 2019 World Cup when New Zealand will be chasing their third consecutive trophy and fourth overall.
Smith, a 94-Test centre who ended his international career after winning his second World Cup in 2015, said Schmidt should be a leading contender for Hansen's role.
New Zealand Rugby has previously said it wants continuity in its coaching ranks, with current assistant coach Ian Foster regarded as favourite to succeed Hansen.
But Smith said Schmidt's lack of experience with New Zealand's national coaching set-up and Kiwi Super Rugby teams should not be a problem, given his success in the northern hemisphere.
"People realise it's a global game, it really helps if you've experienced the way rugby is played and operates up here (northern hemisphere)," he said.
"It can only help your CV and your intel about the game, so I don't think that'd be much of an issue,"
New Zealand pundits expressed similar views after Ireland's victory over England, with Dominion-Post rugby writer Tony Smith saying Schmidt had built a compelling case.
"It all adds up to Schmidt being the complete coaching package - the only serious rival to Hansen as the best international coach of the last decade," he wrote.
Sky Sports NZ rugby commentator Scott Stevenson said the All Blacks' ongoing success relied upon the team appointing the best coaches.
"Can we make sure this guy's in the running to be the next All Blacks coach?" he said.
"If Joe Schmidt is not part of the conversation when Steve Hansen decides to hang up his coaching whistle then we have serious issues as a nation."