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The adopted Pom's World Cup dream

By Paul Fletcher

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Interview: England coach Tony Smith

A lot has changed for Tony Smith since the last World Cup.

Back in 2000, Smith had recently taken over as boss of struggling Super League side Huddersfield and was helping the Japanese national team when he had a spare moment.

When the next World Cup takes place in October, Smith - after stepping down from his successful spell with Leeds - will be in charge of England.

It is unlikely to be quite such a culturally enriching experience as his time with Japan, but this time Smith has serious intentions of returning as a champion.

The 41-year-old Australian is an intelligent and engaging character, but it is his enthusiasm for British rugby league that really grabs your attention.

He talks of "our game", the immense pride he has in his job and the possibility of a "changing of the guard" at the top of the international game.

I would like to have the players more often but that is not possible

Tony Smith

He has already helped steer Great Britain to a 3-0 series whitewash over New Zealand last year.

Now, as England coach, the World Cup is his focus - and he is relishing the challenge.

After stepping down as Leeds coach, Smith was told he would miss the day-to-day involvement with players. Not a bit of it, he says.

He loves watching Super League as an objective observer, sometimes taking in three fixtures in a weekend, and is in regular contact with all 12 Super League coaches.

"I get their views and ideas, mainly about their own players, but if they are happy to volunteer information about opponents then I listen to that as well," he said.

But Smith admits he would like more time with his charges as the World Cup approaches.

Jamie Peacock (left) tussles with Australia Willie Mason
Smith knows England will face a tough task in Australia

"I would like to have the players more often, but that is not possible," he said.

"Without any centralised payments, I cannot really take them out of their club situations.

"Maybe in the future there will be some strategies whereby we can reduce the workload of some players. We are looking at that."

The club v country issue has caused huge problems in other sports, most notably rugby union.

But Smith, who combines his England coach duties with his role as the Rugby Football League's technical director, has not given up hope of finding a solution that works for all parties.

"Maybe there is a new system to be developed by ourselves," he said.

A further concern for Smith as he counts down to the World Cup is player burn-out.

The regular Super League season lasts 27 rounds, while many of the top players are likely to have the play-offs and several Challenge Cup fixtures in their calendar as well.

"It is a concern," he said. "Some of the seasoned pros have been playing back-to-back games across back-to-back seasons."

606: DEBATE

All of which means that Smith has to be extremely precise in his planning over the next six months.

He has the players for a mid-season international against France in Toulouse on 27 June and is hopeful of more get-togethers before the end of the season.

But he will not flog the players, preferring to concentrate on theory work and helping them familiarise themselves with each other.

"It is just not fair to take the players out of their club situations and train them on their day off," said Smith.

"They are already going to their maximum, so if you try to squeeze more out of them you will break them."

As soon as the regular Super League season finishes, Smith will start gathering his players together.

But time with any player making the Grand Final will be "very limited" as there will be less than a week before the friendly against Ireland on 9 October.

ENGLAND'S WORLD CUP FIXTURES
25 Oct: England v PNG Townsville
2 Nov: Australia v England Melbourne
8 Nov: England v New Zealand Newcastle

Is it enough? "It will have to be," is Smith's response.

Besides, Smith knows a lot can be achieved in a short time - as his achievements with Great Britain have already showed.

"I was taken aback by how well the players develop new relationships on the field, but they can do that because they are the elite," he said.

He also believes his England team have the self-belief and momentum to go all the way at the World Cup.

And if he does take his players all the way, the adopted Pom, who hopes to become a British citizen before the World Cup gets under way, believes there will be no conflict of interest.

"I think the Smith family will be very supportive of the home country," he said, with a mischievous smile.



see also
England Cup spots 'up for grabs'
25 Mar 08 |  Rugby League
No guarantee over expansion - RFL
05 Feb 08 |  Rugby League
Rugby League World Cup 2008
15 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
Smith to become British citizen
10 Jan 08 |  Rugby League
Smith takes up Great Britain job
26 Mar 07 |  Rugby League
Rugby bosses close on peace deal
18 Jan 06 |  English


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