After an international rugby career spanning almost a decade and with 51 caps to his name, Canadian Ryan Smith is hanging up his boots.
The 32-year-old centre has announced his retirement from all levels of rugby, having made the decision prior to the Rugby World Cup and returned with a desire to move on to the next stage in his life.
"I made international rugby a part of my life for almost 10 years and it's the right time to move on,” Smith said. “Before the World Cup, I had made the decision to move on. With the overall experience the way it was at the World Cup, everything seemed right, so it was not a hard decision to make.”
Looking back on the recently completed Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, Smith takes with him fond memories of the Canadian team’s journey, which saw them earn an early 25-20 upset win over Tonga, tie Japan for the second-consecutive World Cup and lose to France and New Zealand.
On a personal level, the World Cup in New Zealand saw Smith earn his 50th representative cap for Canada, in an emotional 23-23 tie to Japan. He also tallied his ninth try for Canada overall, crossing over for his side’s first marker in a 46-19 loss to France.
Amidst the highs and lows of the tournament, Smith described his third Rugby World Cup as his most memorable of all rugby experiences.
"I said when I got my 50th that this was one of the best teams I've ever played with and the best group of guys in recent memory,” Smith said. “The 2011 World Cup was by far my best memory. The overall experience is one I'll remember for a long time.
"I would have liked to have played my last test with a victory, but it was great to play the All Blacks in New Zealand at a World Cup.”
Canada’s National Senior Men’s Team head coach Kieran Crowley thanked Smith for his commitment to the jersey, having worked with him since 2008.
“Ryan Smith was a great servant for Canada over a number of years,” Crowley said. “To reach 50 games for Canada is a massive achievement given the amount of games we play a year. Smith is an outstanding team man who contributes significantly both on and off the field.
“He was under increasing pressure from some younger players coming through, but worked very hard at his game and performed very consistently at the World Cup. He is retiring from international rugby at the top of his game, which is a credit to him. He is a true professional and showed great example and leadership to all he played with.”
Originally from Caledon East, Ontario, Smith saw a steady rise in the Canadian rugby ranks, starting with humble beginnings at Mayfield Secondary School before moving to club side the Brampton Beavers.
As is common with players looking to make the Canadian national side, he moved to the country’s West coast for further playing time, joining the Castaway Wanderers in the BC Premier League before getting called up to the Pacific Pride, which at the time was a Canadian age-grade side of sorts.
He toured Germany with the Pride in 2002 and made his international debut for Canada on June 14, 2003, against England A.
"My first cap went by fast,” he said. “I came on for about 10 minutes and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off.”
He went on to earn a further eight caps for Canada in his first year of international rugby, including games against Wales, New Zealand and Tonga in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia.
In 2005 he joined New Zealand National Provincial Championship side Southland for a season, before signing with French club US Montauban, where he spent one season in the nation’s Rugby Pro D2 competition before the side was promoted to the Top 14.
Smith considers there to be two standout highlights of his lengthy international career. The first being a 2005 win over Argentina in Calgary. The second, Canada’s Rugby World Cup win over Tonga this year and the tournament as a whole.
"Argentina had a good team and we had a good team. It was the last test of a long summer run and we really celebrated that win,” he said. “And the win over Tonga, well at that point it felt like we could do something really special at this World Cup.”
Smith also recalls some less-than memorable moments, most notably the 2007 Rugby World Cup which saw Canada’s worst finish ever, leaving the tournament with no wins and a tie to Japan.
"The 2007 World Cup would be my worst rugby experience,” Smith said. “It was a good group of guys but we just under achieved. We were crushed because we could have beat Fiji and Japan and the games changed in the last moments. That World Cup was very emotionally trying.”
The player also received praise for his work off the field as a member of the National Men's Player's Committee.
"I have enjoyed working with Ryan," Rugby Canada CEO Graham Brown said. "His leadership has helped deliver more for the players who are committing their lives to play for Canada."
Smith now lives in Calgary, where he has played the last three seasons with the Prairie Wolf Pack of the Canadian Rugby Championship, while also being affiliated with local club side the Calgary Irish.
Throughout his international rugby tenure, he has had to work hard to find a balance between playing and working, especially over the last three years where he juggled a career in the oil and gas industry while representing Canada on the international stage.
With his rugby playing days behind him, Smith looks forward to focusing on his career, currently working with service company Rigless Rentals, spending time with his wife Chantal Mackenzie and working on the development side of the sport he loves.
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