‘Sharp witted, brave insightful’: Rugby pays tribute as veteran writer Wayne Smith dies


Former colleagues and players have paid tribute to longtime rugby writer Wayne Smith, who has died suddenly, aged 69.

Smith covered rugby and Olympic sports – most notably swimming – for News Corp before parting ways with the organisation in 2021. Since then Smith has written a weekly column for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh told The Roar: “He was one of the best journalists I ever dealt with. Wayne knew the game intimately and was a leader in  game analysis and commentary. He will be dearly missed by all in our game and his insights, wisdom and accurate journalism will be difficult to replace.”

“Rugby union and swimming were blessed to have Wayne Smith’s relentless and brilliant writing to chronicle their highest moments, analyse every issue and call out their failings for 50 years,” The Roar expert and long-time colleague Jim Tucker told News Corp on Wednesday.

“It’s incredibly sad ‘Smithy’ won’t have the privileged seat he deserves at the 2032 Olympics after being the first to plant the idea that Brisbane should bid.

“Smithy only knew full speed when chasing a story. If five phone calls had to be made to corroborate a back page story, he’d make 10. You only hope he passed on enough of his craft to enough young journos so they know how fearless and researched they need to be to ever get close to one of the greatest of Australian sports writers.

“If rugby is serious about honouring him, they will ban his pet hate, the rolling maul try, for a full weekend of games.”

Smith was fiercely competitive as a newshound but friendly and helpful to share knowledge too. He had lately been a regular mentor to The Roar’s Rugby Editor Christy Doran.

“He will be incredibly missed. He was such a good bloke,” former Wallabies coach John Connolly told the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday.

“I met him in 1971, when I was playing for Brothers, so we go back a long way. What he was, he was very much his own man. You were friends with him but he wrote what he thought and said what he meant.

“He was incredibly competitive with other journalists. Nothing upset him more than being scooped on something. He would blow up deluxe.”

John Eales, one of Smith’s favourite subjects as a writer, told the Herald that “Wayne Smith was rugby in Australia.

“He was sharp witted, brave and insightful in all his writing, effortlessly making you laugh while making his point. I’ll miss him a lot. He was a great friend and a great man whose words and memories will live on for all of us who enjoyed them.”

Rugby Australia released a statement saying the sport had been lucky to have Smith writing about the code.

“Wayne Smith was a constant presence in the Australian sports and Rugby media for half a century – a journalist who kept sport, its administrators, and participants honest for decades,” the statement read.

“Renowned for his tenacity in chasing news stories, Wayne was warmly regarded by his colleagues and friends in the media – and was an enthusiastic mentor to many young Rugby and sports journalists later in his career.

“Always unfailingly honest in his views, and committed to his craft throughout a career that covered Australia’s most highly regarded journalism mastheads.

“Australian Rugby is fortunate to have had a journalist of such quality and remarkable passion for the game covering it for such a long time.

“As fans of Rugby, we will all greatly miss Wayne’s contribution to our game – however, we are most thankful to have had it for as long as we did.

“Rugby Australia passes on its most sincere condolences to Wayne Smith’s family and many friends, colleagues and loved ones.”

There was an outpouring of tributes on social media as well.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login