Pau - New Zealand international centre
Conrad Smith says French hospitality has taken him by surprise since arriving
in the southwest to join Pau.
But accepting the generosity of rugby fans
at the foot of the Pyrenees has also brought with it unfortunate rumours for
the World Cup winning former-All Black.
"I enjoy wine but not to the extent
that has been portrayed by the media," joked the 34-year-old, who won 94
New Zealand caps during a glorious international career that brought him two
"French hospitality is so good that
people I don't know are giving me bottles of red wine to try, but I can't! If I
did, I'd be an alcoholic!"
Smith joined second division champions Pau
after last year's World Cup alongside fellow New Zealander Colin Slade, who
moved from the Crusaders.
"The reason I came here was to do
something different and it's exactly what I've experienced," said Slade,
"(There are) slight differences that
have made (for) an exciting challenge."
Slade played just 21 times for the All
Blacks from 2010-2015, alternating between fly-half and centre, but was part of
both World Cup winning squads, like Smith.
Smith's last action for the Hurricanes was
in losing the Super Rugby final to fellow New Zealanders the Highlanders.
After that he agreed to join Pau under the
guidance of compatriot Simon Mannix, who helped him overcome the language
"It helps obviously with the language
the first few weeks because it was very difficult having the connections with
some of the players, but the French boys have been really accommodating,"
Pau have not enjoyed the most impressive
season back in the Top 14 after a nine-year hiatus, but with two games of the
regular season left, they are at least safe from relegation, sitting 11th and
19 points ahead of Oyonnax in 13th.
They're even one place above reigning
champions Stade Francais, whose season has been a disaster.
"I think obviously the goal was to
stay up and the prospect of relegation was at the doorstep," said Smith of
his first season at Pau.
"Now we have secured ourselves for
next season, we've played rugby to give the club a bit of belief we can beat
some of the good sides and really compete.
"For myself, I can't see any reason
the side we've got can't challenge for the top six (next season)."
His language skills may not be the most
impressive but Smith has settled in well with his new team-mates, and delighted
fans too when selling an outrageous dummy to former All Black centre partner
Ma'a Nonu before scoring a try - converted by Slade - against Toulon back in
Pau captain Julien Pierre said at times he
had to pinch himself when looking across the changing room and seeing Smith's
"Three weeks after Conrad arrived I
was looking at him in the changing room and it seemed to me that he'd been here
for six months," said Pierre.
"Double world champion but in his
attitude there was nothing that gave it away, except how demanding he was in
Having the two former All Blacks in the
group has been a source of motivation for the rest of the squad.
"It gives us a positive dynamic and
when they say something, everyone wants to follow them," added Pierre.
Mannix, for his part, has been pleased with
"You can't find fault with their
commitment both on and off the pitch - they're big names in New Zealand rugby -
and that's exactly what I expected," he said.
"They're here to work hard and take
this club forward, and over the first six months, things have really been
heading in the right direction."