Saturday / 10 / November

Mentors and Mateship with JP and Ruan Smith

South African born, twin brothers JP and Ruan Smith have played Rugby all over the world and now call Queensland home. We chat to them about playing together and pulling on the Reds jersey which has been a dream for them ever since they moved to Queensland. JP shares his experience of coaching as well as not being able to play Rugby for eight months due to health reasons and Ruan chats to us about the importance of mentors and being able to take on feedback.

What age did you get into Rugby?

Ruan: Growing up in South Africa, it is basically a religion and you don’t really have a choice as a little boy growing up. We started playing as soon as we could, maybe 6 or 7. As soon as we can remember basically!

Have you always played in the same teams?

JP: Yeah, the only time we haven’t is when I was with the Stormers (South Africa) and Ruan was playing for the Toyota Verblitz in Japan.

Ruan: It has worked out pretty well, it is kind of a coincidence that we have ended up playing together in our professional careers.

So you’re not a package deal?

Ruan: No, not really. That’s what everyone thinks, but I think it is just meant to be.

Was there ever a point in your careers, when one of you have made the side and the other one didn’t?

JP: Yeah, I think it was at the Brumbies. Ruan was contracted first and I came the year later, he played most of the season in my first year. There’s definitely a few times that has happened.

As twins, you guys are very close, how do you deal with that?

JP: It is mixed emotions!

Ruan: I think we are strong enough together to get each other through it.

There has been competition, but is has never been unhealthy competition. There is never jealousy if one does well and the other doesn’t do well. Growing up JP was a good cricket player and I was useless, but still played because we both wanted to play.

On the field, do you thrive together in the competitiveness to perform or outdo each other?

Ruan: We bring out the best in each other.

JP: When there is someone next to you who can push you through those things, it makes it much easier. It is like living with a teammate everyday of your life.

Ruan: When things do get tough, it is harder when you go through it on your own, whether that be on the field or off the field. Going through something together is always a lot easier.

When you were both in different countries playing Rugby, was it hard being away from each other?

JP: It is hard, we try and speak to each other everyday. But being physically away from each other does have a massive impact on us, especially being together our whole lives. We do everything together, but we try and make it a positive thing.

Ruan: We sort of realised, that when we are away from each other for a while you do get used to it, but as soon as one of us comes to visit the other that’s when it is hard. I came and visited JP in January and a few things changed and I decided to stay and that is when you realise how much you miss each other.

Ever since you moved to Australia, you have been Reds supporters. How does it feel to be able to pull on that Red Jersey?

JP: It has been unreal. When we moved here in 2006, our first goal was to be professional Rugby players at the Reds. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way at the start, it is something we never thought would happen until a couple of years ago when we first got interest.

It has been awesome and it has been our goal our whole life.

We follow you both on social media, JP you are always scaring Ruan. Do you consider yourself competitive with each other?

JP: In aspects, like I said when we do things we try and do it properly and to the best of our ability. Sometimes, it isn’t good enough and we thrive off that.

Ruan: We keep each other honest and even though we are light-hearted people and easy going. Sometimes we do have to be serious with each other, we don’t like it. When it is time to be serious with each other, we just have to do it.

Do you find having that ability to hold each other accountable, it ultimately brings out the best in you both, because you are turning to each other?

Ruan: I think if someone does hold you accountable not to react and take it personally. As we got older we definitely learnt not to take it personally, because we do wear our heart on our sleeve and we are proud people. We did have to learn the hard way and it does bring out the best in you if you look at the feedback in a positive way.

JP: It does make it easier when there is two of us. If I get negative feedback it is easy for me to have negative outlook, but Ruan will come to me and say look at it positively, so we do help each other out in that aspect.

There must be some interesting times on your sporting journey together. Is there anything that stands out?

JP: I think the 2013 season when we played against the British/Irish Lions with the Brumbies. The Brumbies were the first provincial team to beat them in 74 years and we were both a part of that.

Ruan: Also, last year we both played in the World XV together. I don’t know how that happened either, another coincidence.

You have played under a few different coaches. Who have been the coaches who have had the most impact on you?

JP: My first opportunity to become a professional player was from Jake White. After I took 8 months off from Rugby at the Stormers, my brother at the time was under Jake and he gave me the opportunity to come back and get myself ready. He has done a lot for my career and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be playing professional Rugby.

Ruan: I would agree! In 2012, we were playing with GPS. Jake gave me a phone call and said not to sign with anyone, I am going to call you cause I want you down in Canberra. Eleven months went by and I hadn’t heard anything, he gave me a call and signed me on a 3 year contract that day. He gave us that foot in the door and if it wasn’t for him we probably would be somewhere else right now.

JP, you said you stopped playing for 8 months. Was that the result of an injury?

It was a heart condition. I had Athletic Heart Syndrome and the two valves in my heart weren’t working properly. After taking 8 months off, I went and got a second opinion and I was given the all clear.

Having the news that you weren’t able to play Rugby potentially ever again. How did you deal with that?

JP: Eight months without having a job and trying to find a job got to me a bit mentally. I knew the best thing for me was to stay involved in the game, I was coaching a bit and making sure I stayed in contact with my brother.

Ruan, you were in Japan when JP was told he couldn’t play. Did that make it harder by not being together?

Ruan: When he told me he didn’t let out too many emotions, he acts tough most of the time. I sensed it and I knew it was a hard time. So he came and visited me, it was meant to be 3 weeks and Jake found out he was visiting and told him to stay a bit longer and he trained with us, so the visit became 19 months. It was disappointing for me because I did know it was tough time for JP.

JP, you coached the USC Barbarians in 2017 as the forwards coach. What did you enjoy about that experience?

JP: That was the first time for me. I experienced Rugby from a different perspective. That made me miss Rugby so much more. For me it made me realise I should never take anything for granted again, it was a very eye-opening experience for me.

Ruan: You grew pretty close to some of the boys too and from what I have seen from the side. They are a real tight group and that is what it is about.

JP: That sense of belonging and being in a team I never lost, but it did teach me to never take things for granted.

As a coach and as a player, is there a different relationship you need to have with the players?

JP: You have to keep it balanced. The players need to have the respect for you as a coach, and being a player I know how they think and what they do. You do get involved in the off field camaraderie.

Ruan: Just as long as you are approachable. You need to have the balance, but as a coach you need to be approachable and players should feel as though they can talk to you.

From a players perspective, do you think having those coaches like Jake White and coaches who are approachable makes a difference to you as a player?

Ruan: For me personally, if you have a personal relationship with a coach off field you tend to play your best footy and care more.

What has drawn you guys to join PlayBook?

JP: First of all, Rugby needs to keep growing in Australia.

The platform helps develops us as coaches as well as the players. One on one coaching is unheard of, growing up we never had these opportunities and if we had these opportunities when we were younger we would’ve grabbed it with both hands. I think it is a massive platform for kids who want to develop their sporting career.

Ruan: One on one coaching will develop you a lot quicker. I think if we had it, we would’ve been a lot further developed at the age of 22 than what we were. At those ages where you need really technical skills you only get it from one-on-one coaching and it will make you develop a lot quicker.

You both play very specialist positions. Tighthead Prop (Ruan) and Loosehead Prop (JP). Can you explain the difference?

JP: Tighthead Prop is usually fatter [laughs].

Ruan: Tighthead Prop is known as the anchor of the scrum because you scrum against the Loosehead and the hooker, where the Loosehead attacks the Tighthead. So you need to be a bit stronger like me.

Family is really important to you both. Has Rugby always been about family for you?

Ruan: For me, yeah. The teams I have been in, the stronger you are as a group the better you perform. You get to grow close personal relationships with the guys you play with because you see them everyday. If you spend everyday with the same people, they become your family.

We are really passionate about mentors at PlayBook. Who do you guys turn to when you need advice?

JP: There are a lot of times when we were younger we never had that opportunity. We had to go out of our way to find it or just learn the hard way. Now, when we need advice we just research it.

Ruan: We go to our Dad with most of our problems. He has been through a lot in his life, he is one of our biggest critics as well, he gives us the truth and we don’t take it personally. He tells us how it is basically.

Do you see the value in having mentor relationships for young athletes coming through?

JP: I think that is the most important thing for up and coming players. Even for coaching and off field stuff, that person can give you advice in all aspects of your life. While you are getting the advice for the on field stuff, the off field stuff is still coming along and you can start to build your confidence.

Ruan: If I think back to when I was 16 I would of loved to have someone like that. To take me under their wing and teach me the little things and I think it is priceless for an athlete to have and to have someone you can build a relationship with and see them as a role model.

Finally, you are both larrikins on social media. JP you like to scare Ruan a lot and film it. How did that start?

Ruan: I think it started in Sydney.

JP: He has always been on edge, some nights we will watch a movie and in the middle of the night I will wake up and open up all of the cupboards in the kitchen.

Ruan: When I am on my own, I drift off a bit. He has noticed this flaw in me and he has managed to take advantage of that. He is pretty weak because he always gets me in the shower, there is something that blocks us [laughing].

Feature Image via JP Smith’s Instagram