Eric's got a ton of heart, grit Stu Piddington 1/09/2012
Playing 99 games for South Canterbury at loose forward has not changed Eric Smith.
The 33-year-old is still quietly spoken and prefers to talk about anyone except himself.
On the paddock, however, he an uncompromising competitor, hard, fair and talented.
Opposition coaches still query whether he is in the side, a telling sign of respect 15 years after he first pulled on the green and black jersey.
By contrast Smith doesn't want to talk about the opposition, or players he faced that he admired.
To him they are simply the enemy in a battle that needs to be won.
The opposite is true of his team-mates, however, and there were many over the years he had played with that he did have plenty of respect for, especially fellow forwards.
"I don't really want to say I might miss some one, but Fai [Savieti] and Tui [Tauelangi] were special. They would run straight, hard and over people."
Off the field he is happy to have a beer with anyone and over time has become friends with many players all over New Zealand.
"Rugby has been great to me, meeting people from different provinces and cultures that I wouldn't have otherwise. Those Tongan and Samoan boys are a laugh."
Smith debuted at No 7 out of the Harlequins club as a 19-year-old in 1998.
With the exception of a year in the Hawke's Bay and year away from the game, he has been a constant in the side, usually one of the first picked and rarely not one of the top performers.
Highlights for Smith include winning the third division in 2001.
He was also part of a New Zealand Divisional XV that spent three weeks in the North Island and played both Samoa and Tonga in 2003, in their buildup to the Rugby World Cup. "That was pretty cool as you had the likes of Sean Fitzpatrick and specialist coaches in all the positions."
At times offers were made to entice him away from South Canterbury, but he rejected them all.
Smith also made the Heartland XV to tour the United States in 2008 and was one of three nominations as the Heartland Championship Player of the Year.
Smith said he was never one for statistics but South Canterbury manager Steve Wills got him on to the fact he was close to marking the milestone.
"Steve said I need to hang on as 100 is something pretty special."
His physio Brett Jenkins says Smith longevity is down to the fact he was a superb trainer, way ahead of most players.
"Smithy seems to bounce back much quicker because he is serious about training."
Smith also credits Jenkins for getting him to 100.
"I remember before one game he had me in his lounge at home trying to get my back right a couple of hours before kickoff."
In his younger days he used to go to the gym three times a week, run 10km at the least once a week and on another force himself up the Caroline Bay steps. "I can't quite do it these days because of my achilles and I am just hanging together."
Smith admitted he was looking forward to hanging up the boots and spending more time with his four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.
"I've had a great time, but my time is up at the end of the season."
Smith said he would stay involved in rugby through junior rugby at Harlequins.
Coach Chester Scott said Smith was always a pleasure to deal with.
"From a coach's point of view he has all that experience and is still one of the best sevens in the competition. Eric never says much, he's not vocal, but when he does everyone listens.
"He is certainly well respected by his peers and has earned that."
Smith will lead the team out against East Coast at Alpine Energy Stadium at 2.30pm today.