GLASGOW Warriors forward Matt Smith has signed a new two-year contract which ties him to Scotstoun until May 2020 – a fitting reward for some fine performances by the 21-year-old this season. Smith’s ability to force his way into Dave Rennie’s matchday squad has been all the more impressive given the amount of competition for places in the back row, although as he pointed out yesterday, he has also received a lot of help from some of his supposed rivals, particularly Callum Gibbins.
When Rennie recruited Gibbins from New Zealand it was clear that the former Hurricanes player had a lot to offer in addition to his individual contribution on the field, and that has been proven by the way in which he has helped Smith and other young forwards get up to speed quickly with the demands of the professional game – including when he was sidelined by injury.
“I wasn’t expecting any of this,” Smith said of his rapid rise in his first full season as a pro. “It was quite fortunate for me that Cully [Gibbins] was struggling – that gave me my shot and I took it well. I’ve managed to get a few games under my belt.
“He helps me with everything. We talk through our games together. He gives me little pointers when he’s watching my games, he’s always wishing me good luck before a game, he’s a real good mentor to have. I’m just stealing it all just now.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve been given a good opportunity, and I’ve felt I’ve taken it well, so hopefully a few more seasons to come.”
Had Matt Smith followed in the footsteps of a family member from generations past he would be playing football right now. Instead, he opted for rugby precisely because the camaraderie with team-mates made it feel more like a family environment.
Alex Smith played for Rangers and Scotland, and Matt’s parents still have memorabilia from that illustrious career. The example of his ancestor was enough to encourage him to try football at school in Stirling, but now the example he hopes to follow is that of his rugby-playing elder sister Hannah, who plays in the centre or back row for Scotland.
“He was my great-great-grandfather,” Smith said yesterday after signing a new two-year deal with the Warriors which ties him to Scotstoun until May 2020. “I never met him, but we’ve got his Scotland caps and a Scotland jersey in the house, and a clock he won at Rangers.
“I tried football in primary six for a year, but it’s not like a family. You get a lot of abuse in football now and I wasn’t keen for that. Football’s obviously still a team, but there’s a lot of abuse in it and it’s too critical. I like encouragement over abuse.
“[In football you get abuse from] coaches, parents, other players – other players are the worst. Whereas rugby is just more of a family. Everyone sticks up for each other and there’s a real close bond.”
A rugby family with sister Hannah
Hannah is actually four years older than Matt, but she followed him into the sport, as he explained. Having played for Scotland Under-20s last year, his next milestone will be if he emulates her and wins a full cap – although for the time being he is simply concentrating on the fight for a regular place in Rennie’s matchday squad.
“She joined Stirling County women when I was already playing there. She gave it a bash and it turns out she’s really good at it. She’s smashing it right now: I’m so proud of her. She’s a centre: she’s not too happy about playing in the back row but I think she’s going to get stuck there.”
Warriors assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys is confident that Smith will continue to improve as he grows in experience. “We’ve been really impressed with Matt,” he said. “He’s mobile and aggressive and plays the game the way we want to play it. He has the potential to be outstanding and we’re looking forward to watching him develop and improve over the next two years.”