‘Brutal and violent’: The two aspects Reds work-horse wants to fix to take next step towards Wallabies


As Ryan Smith prepares for his 50th Super Rugby match, the former air conditioning contractor turned Reds stalwart wants to add a “brutal and violent” edge to his game to make the next step in his career.

Where his razzle-dazzle teammates Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight often get the headlines off the back of their dazzling highlights reels, Smith, in much the same way Scott Fardy went about his career, is the no-frills second-rower that every successful side needs.

A ruck-hitting, tackle-machine that enjoys the tough stuff in the middle, Smith has quietly gone about his work since making his debut for the Reds in 2020.

A tradesman in every sense, Smith was on the tools as the sun rose in the days around the start of the Covid pandemic and would duck to training after finishing his honest day’s work in the hope of one day pulling on the Reds jersey.

That moment came when Brad Thorn rewarded the lock for his desire to get stuck in and compete.

The Brothers lock hasn’t looked back – and neither have the Reds, with the 27-year-old becoming a mainstay at the Super Rugby franchise holding the tight-five together.

“I was lucky enough to keep getting selected,” Smith said in his usual understated, dry manner ahead of his milestone moment in New Zealand.

“It’s been the story of my career. Even at Brothers, there were a lot of fantastic players ahead of me and I just stuck at it and worked really hard and picked up what I could from those guys.

“I was really happy to get one game for the Reds and to potentially have 50 is pretty amazing and something I didn’t foresee happening.”

Ryan Smith will play his 50th Super Rugby match on Friday. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Smith’s importance to the Reds has risen even more under Les Kiss given the emphasis the former winger places on the breakdown and quick ball.

Fortunately, Smith is all too willing to put his head down and play his part.

“In this team, it’s really about knowing your role,” he said. “We’re all across our detail, it’s all been set out exactly what the coaches are expecting from us.

“The other guys in the team are fantastic ball-carriers and breakdown experts, Harry Wilson, Seru [Uru], Fraser, Wrongers [Liam Wright], so I’m not trying to step up and take any carries off those guys because they’re such damaging ball-runners and fantastic with ball-in-hand.

“I’m happy to do my job and make tackles and hit attacking breakdowns and work really hard around that set-piece stuff, which allows those guys to light up at the other end.”

If there were more players in Australian rugby with Smith’s attitude around the breakdown, the Wallabies would have scored dozens of more tries and secured several more wins in recent years.

Indeed, no area on the field has given the Wallabies more headaches since the 2015 World Cup than the attacking breakdown.  

It’s also why Smith recognises it’s the area that he must continue to improve if he wants to get a crack under new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt.

“Les, Chock [Zane Hilton] and Fish [Jonathan Fisher] have really just asked me to home those things that might already be a part of my game, but just to make sure that I keep working on the things I’m already good at and things I need to improve,” Smith said.

“A lot of that breakdown stuff is really important for me and trying to be brutal and violent at those breakdowns is probably my next step.”

Kiss, who coached alongside Schmidt for three years and the best part of 50 Tests, says the breakdown will be something the New Zealander will be after as he edges closer to naming his first Wallabies squad.

“Without a doubt,” Kiss said.  “I know that will be a focus for the Wallabies as well.

“The accuracy that you need there, hitting that sweet spot of accuracy, getting that right physicality into that moment, hitting that right to be able to clear that ball is a massive part of the game.

Former Irish coach Joe Schmidt (R) worked alongside Les Kiss (L) for many years. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE (Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“The breakdown can be refereed differently from referee to referee, there isn’t quite the consistency that we’d like there to be, so just being very good at the breakdown, being very good as a carrier, getting that ball back early, they’re all key components that can make any team play better, and no doubt the Wallabies and Joe will be making sure that any player that is picked has those qualities.”

Friday’s clash against Moana Pasifika is Smith’s next test.

A side on the rise under Tana Umaga, Stephen Jones and Tom Coventry, Moana has enough physical threats, including Julian Savea in the midfield, to make the Reds’ trip to Whangarei a tricky one.

“The truth is we’re playing Moana and Moana Pasifika have some big bodies, they attack the breakdown, we just need to make sure we have that level of physicality of where it needs to be. That’s the focus,” Kiss said.

“But it also points to our set-piece, so we’re clinical there because they’re big men.”

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