Tas Smith: From Cocktail to the Club

2 months ago

“Everything feels more real”. There’s nothing like the first full-on match simulation against spirited opposition to tell scrumhalf Tas Smith that Major League Rugby is back in LA.

The hit-out against local club Belmont Shore on February 8 was an ideal way for the new Rugby Football Club of Los Angeles to step up their pre-season levels.

For Smith, 22, it was the chance to throw his sharp pass, eagerness to run and enthusiasm into an exciting melting pot of new players and formative combinations.

“It’s just what we needed. It’s a shock to the system to get into a full-on, physical trial against opposition for the first time,” Smith said.

“Everything feels more real now. We’re working on new combinations and I know I had time on the field with three of our No.10s (Dan Hollinshead, Sam Walsh and Matt Anticev).”

Smith made a strong impression during 14 games for the LA Giltinis in 2022 but headed home to Australia to play in 2023 rather than risk the random nature of the MLR’s dispersal draft.

Tas Smith in action in the MLR in 2022
Tas Smith in action in the MLR in 2022. Photo: Getty Images

“I got a taste for the MLR in 2022. From not knowing how much rugby I’d play, I got quite a few starts and learnt a lot about the MLR,” Smith said.

“I didn’t want to be thrown anywhere in the dispersal draft so I headed back to Sydney to play a full club season in 2023.

“I’ve definitely been keen to get back into the MLR. As soon as a new team in LA became a thing I knew it was the place I wanted to be.”

Smith is USA-qualified despite the Australian accent. He was born in New York in 2001, when his parents were working in advertising, before moving to Australia as a baby. He was captain of Cranbrook in Sydney’s elite schools’ competition in 2019 and joined leading club side Sydney University from there.

Selection for the USA Under-20s in May, 2020 was the first rugby connection with his American heritage even though COVID cancelled the opportunity.

“To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of playing in the USA until I was contacted about the Under-20s opportunity,” Smith said.

The MLR break with the Giltinis followed. His LA experience has given him an insight into the huge possibilities for RFCLA.

“Southern California has one of the biggest junior and club communities for rugby in the country. I’ve been out before to clubs like Belmont Shore and Santa Monica as well as UCLA,” Smith said.

“You feel the connection with rugby and the gratitude when clinics are conducted, help with coaching is offered or players are shown that pathways to professional rugby exist for them too.”

Smith is sharing an apartment at Redondo Beach with fellow scrumhalf Niall Saunders, an Englishman with experience playing for London club Harlequins before his MLR stints with Utah Warriors and Rugby ATL.

“There’s a healthy competition at training with Niall and I’m learning as well,” Smith said.

“That’s one of the main things at a new club. New relationships are bonding and combinations are being worked on.

“I know for me, having a head coach (Steve Brett) with an attack-focused mindset is exciting.”RFCLA are in full training mode for the club's debut against the Dallas Jackals at Dignity Health Sports Park on March 3.

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