It’s hardly surprising that Chris Smith is the leading points scorer in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship this season when you consider who his kicking mentor is.
Alongside him at the Vodacom Bulls is veteran Springboks fly-half Morne Steyn, a name then sends a chill through British and Irish rugby fans. During a remarkable career, the 68-cap Steyn has twice landed the kicks to secure series victories over the British & Irish Lions, in 2009 and then again in 2021.
Now 38, he is still part of the Vodacom Bulls squad and passing on his wisdom to Smith, a man ten years his junior. It’s clearly working as his protégé is out in front of the Vodacom URC scoring chart with a 65 point haul, via 13 penalties and 13 conversions.
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As Smith prepares for back-to-back games against Welsh visitors in the shape of the Ospreys and Cardiff Rugby, he is quick to acknowledge just how beneficial it is to work with Steyn.
“I have been fortunate to have a mentor like Morne kicking alongside me, which has probably helped my success up to date. Just watching him and learning from him has definitely helped,” said the 28-year-old.
“He has a slightly different kicking style to me. We kick off different tees. It’s probably more his mental approach. He’s obviously very cool headed. He’s definitely got ice in his veins. So there’s the mental side of things and also a bit of technical, but it’s more a case of observing how he approaches every kick and how he goes about things.”
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Smith has a 90 per cent success rate off the tee so far this season and is yet to miss a penalty shot at goal, which points to the work he puts in on the training field.
“I kick every single day. I might kick ten kicks, I might kick 15, I might kick 20. It all depends on how I am feeling that day,” he said.
“It’s something I take very seriously. I have got my own stat sheet that I always keep up to date and monitor my percentage. If you are kicking for a side, you do have a job to do, so hopefully my success can continue.”
While he now plies his trade in Pretoria, Smith was actually born in Cape Town and went to school in the Newlands area of the city. Outlining his rugby back story, he said: “I started playing at 8 or 9 years old. I started in the front row, I don’t know why!
“Then I slowly got pushed out to the back line, first as a centre, then eventually made my way to fly-half. I played there through the whole of high school and went on to study at the University of Stellenbosch for five years. Then I got the opportunity to play for the Pumas in Nelspruit and now I’m at the Bulls and loving every minute of it.”
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Giving his thoughts on the Vodacom URC, he said: “I absolutely love it. You want to try and play rugby in the northern hemisphere because it’s definitely challenging. You face conditions that we aren’t used to. You have got howling wind, storms, it rains.
“Going to play up north, playing against these sides, going to these incredible packed stadiums, with unbelievable, passionate crowds has been very cool and very good. I have definitely loved it. I think my team-mates would agree.
“It’s been awesome for South African rugby, awesome for the Bulls and we are really enjoying coming up against stiff competition from the northern hemisphere.”
In addition to topping the points-scoring chart in the league, Smith has also made the most meters from penalty kicks (1,221), has the second highest kicking meters for a No 10 (1,513) and is third among the fly-halves in terms. of tackles (37).
Next up for his third-placed Vodacom Bulls are back-to-back games at home to the Ospreys (Saturday, November 26) and Cardiff Rugby (Saturday, December 3).
Looking ahead to those fixtures, he said: “The Welsh are definitely fighters and they often put in full 80 minute performances.
“The Ospreys go to the end, Cardiff go right to the final minute to pull off victories. They are sides that don’t stop fighting for the full 80. Add a bit of desperation to that and it’s going to be a tough battle, two tough games.
“Luckily, we are playing at home, but you’ve still got to pitch up on the day and try and topple a Welsh side, which is not always easy.”
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) November 24, 2022
Photo: Twitter: @BlueBullsRugby