Sam Smith in action for the Wairarapa College first XV. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

JAKE BELESKI

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When one of Sam Smith’s first XV teammates made the National Maori Under-18 team last year, he set himself a goal to do the same.

The Year 12 Wairarapa College student was this week named in the squad for 2017, which will play matches against the New Zealand Schools Barbarians and Tonga Under-18s early next month.

Smith attended two trial camps before being named in the squad, but said he had been thinking about making the team well before getting to the camps.

“Last year a boy from our school made it, so it’s been in the back of my mind since then.

“At the last training camp it was getting named and I found out then — I was pretty rapt with it.”

Smith is a versatile loose forward, but has spent most of this season playing No 8 for Waicol.

He was ready to play any position to fit into the team environment, he said.

“I enjoy No 8 but could possibly be playing seven for this team.

“I think they want me to play seven because I’m not going to grow that much more — I have to fit in where I can.”

He said the Waicol first XV hadn’t had the results they were looking for this season, but the team had created a strong bond along the way.

His own form had been the catalyst to earning selection in this team.

“I think I’ve done not too bad,” he said.

“I’ve been training quite hard for rugby this year.”

Smith wants to play professionally at some stage in his career, and said Ardie Savea is a player he looks up to at the top level of the game.

Chair of New Zealand Rugby Maori Board, Dr Farah Palmer, announced the team on Thursday.

Many of the players were part of New Zealand Rugby’s E Tu Toa in 2017.

E Tu Toa is a nationwide programme which uses rugby as a vehicle for young Maori to connect with their culture and learn wider life skills.

Dr Palmer said the national side was created to encourage talented young Maori to stay in rugby and provide them with development opportunities both on and off the field.

“The Under-18 Maori team provides a genuine rugby pathway for rangatahi (youth) to step up from representing their regions to higher honours.

“What makes this team different is the connection of all players and coaches to ‘Te Ao Maori’, the Maori World.

“It’s the foundation of all our camps, with players and coaches learning waiata, haka and tikanga which enhance their wellbeing and achievements in rugby and life.”

This is the second year the Under-18 Maori team has been selected.

Players from the 2016 side have gone on to represent their respective unions at the recent Jock Hobbs National U19 tournament, as well as achieving selection for other national age-grade sides and Super Rugby academies.