Since signing with Welsh giants Scarlets as a 16-year-old, halfback Declan Smith has already experienced the perils of professional rugby.
After representing the national U20s and making two appearances for the Pro14 side, Declan’s contract was not renewed, and the 21-year-old’s future was uncertain.
“I was on a five-year contract, which came to an end, and then I spent about a month just really struggling to find a club.”
But an unlikely lifeline would come from the other side of the world.
“My agent got in touch and asked if I fancied playing some club footy in New Zealand.”
The 21-year-old linked up with Stoke and didn’t take long to make his presence felt.
After lighting up the Tasman Trophy with his deceptive pace, crisp passing and pinpoint kicking, Declan was soon catching the attention of Mako selectors.
“It was more about coming over for the experience and playing some new rugby,” he says. “I didn’t think about Tasman, to be honest.”
Declan originally planned for a three-month stint in Nelson but was then made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I had been speaking with [coach] Andrew Goodman since I’ve been here, and they were pretty keen to have me on board. It was a hard offer to turn down.”
While he had seen a bit of Mitre 10 Cup on television back in Wales, Declan had no idea just how fanatical Kiwis are about the competition.
“It’s such a massive community thing and great to be a part of.”
Declan says, without the support of Stoke he wouldn’t be in the position he is as Tasman’s second choice halfback.
“It’s a great club and great bunch of lads, all the team and coaches have been brilliant. They got me here.”
He says he will look to push incumbent halfback Finlay Christie for his starting spot this season.
“I just need to keep myself fit and in form.”
Declan was given the starting nine jersey in the side’s final pre-season hit-out on Friday.
Though coaches and players will tell you the results bear little consequence, it was hard to ignore the emphatic statement made by the Mako against Ranfurly Shield holders Otago.
The Mako ran in eight tries in trying conditions as they hammered the men from the deep south 54-19.
Rain fell shortly after kick-off at Trafalgar Park and remained throughout the first half, but didn’t deter the Mako from playing some enterprising footy.
Doubles for Will Jordan and Leicester Faingaanuku, as well as tries for Andrew Makalio, Alex Nankivell, Hugh Roach and returning All Black Liam Squire, sealed the dominant victory.
Declan says after some hard work at training, the team fully deserved the win. However, he says the side has plenty of lessons to learn.
“We will be back in the classroom on Monday and figure out what we need to do before next Saturday.”
Declan was not named in the official squad on Saturday but will remain with the team as an extended squad member.
Mako 2019 squad:
Levi Aumua, Ethan Blackadder, Finlay Christie, Ryan Coxon, Wyatt Crockett, Leicester Faingaanuku, Shannon Frizell, David Havili, Mitchell Hunt, William Jordan, Tyrel Lomax, Andrew Makalio, Atunaisa Moli, Alex Nankivell, Timothy O’Malley, Pari Pari Parkinson, Rupena Parkinson, Timothy Perry, Blair Prinsep, Hugh Roach, Isaac Salmon, Liam Squire, Quinten Strange, Jordan Taufua, Sione Havili, Joe Wheeler.
Tasman 54 (Jordan 2, L. Faingaanuku 2, Makalio, Squire, Roach, Nankivell tries, Hunt 5, O’Malley 2 cons)
Otago 19 (Nel, Seiuli, Haugh tries, Ione 1, Haugh 1 cons)