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Ward-Smith on life after rugby

Recently retired London Wasps player Dan Ward-Smith touches base from New Zealand, where he’s now helping to manage a professional rugby academy for aspiring young players.

The Inside Running Academy, based in Mount Maunganui, is a chance for young stars to live like a professional from four to 32 weeks.

Ward-Smith, who made 49 appearances for Wasps before being forced to retire in 2011, is working alongside former All Black Kevin Schuler and All Blacks Head of Strength and Conditioning Dr Nic Gill in delivering the coaching and leadership skills to the players.

He explains more about how he got involved in the project, which targets aspiring rugby players who need extra games and training in the off-season, or who are looking to make the step-up to the professional game.

“I would say a large amount of fortune was involved. I was lucky to be looking in the right place at the right time and I was proactive in actively looking for a rugby project in the area. Once I had made the initial contact it was a case of selling the skills that I had, because coming out of a professional rugby environment you do have some rare skills and your advice can carry additional weight because you’ve achieved something that not many are ever able to through hard work and discipline.”

As the Academy Manager for the project, Ward-Smith is responsible for the day to day running of the project as well as overseeing the delivery of the strength and conditioning programme for the players.

He is well placed to offer advice to recently retired players, including some of his former Wasps team-mates who have been forced to hang up their boots through injury.

“I was very sad to see that lots of Wasps players have had to give up their dreams shortly after me, but that is the nature of the sport these days, especially if you are only five foot tall like Nic Berry! My advice would be to immerse yourself in a project that can fill part of the void in your life left by a lack of rugby, and I think having a young family really helped me. In terms of the next career step, I would suggest people shouldn’t rush into anything unless it really lights their fire. I rushed out to work just to be busy, but in hindsight I should have taken time to find something that I was passionate about. I'm lucky that after six months I found the perfect project for me and when I go to work now it feels much like it did for me when I was playing rugby. I love every minute of it.”

Ward-Smith is also keenly following Wasps' progression this season.

“I will always follow Wasps and it was really hard seeing the difficulties that the Club went through last year and not being able to contribute anything on the field. I was hugely relieved when Wasps survived relegation and it does appear as if the club has now moved on. Over the next few years I think Heineken Cup rugby needs to be the target definitely. The most promising aspect I think, of Wasps’ recent wins has been the involvement of so many good young players who will go onto huge things. These guys are the next generation of superstars not only for Wasps but for England too and it's very exciting. The fact that so many established Wasps players had to retire gave these youngsters extra exposure to the Aviva Premiership and advanced their development. For me having played number 8, Billy Vunipola in particular has so much potential. If he works hard he should have a massive international future and should develop into just the sort of player England need at number 8.”

For more on the Inside Running Academy see here