Keith Smith

Rugby player won fame in both codes

KEITH SMITH, one of Yorkshire's most intuitive rugby players who enjoyed success in both codes, has died after a lengthy illness. He was 54.

A tall, slender, deceptively quick fly-half, Smith made his name at national level playing for the Roundhay club in Leeds but he first came to notice with Moortown when he made his debut for Yorkshire Colts against Cumbria in 1970.

He made four further appearances for the county age group team and quickly progressed in the senior ranks, making his county championship bow for Yorkshire against Lancashire in 1972.

He played a total of 14 games for Yorkshire and his intelligent running, smooth passing and instinctive ability to beat an opponent in the tightest of spaces – he readily confessed that sometimes he had no idea how he had gone past a defender – brought him to the attention of the England selectors.

One contemporary at Roundhay this week described Smith as "the best player ever to grace Chandos Park" but, remarkably, the youngster was never to play for Yorkshire or England in his best position, always finding Alan Old or Ian McGeechan chosen at fly-half for Yorkshire and Old first-choice for England.

Smith made his first appearance for England in the new Parc des Princes in Paris on March 2, 1974 and, along with co-centre Geoff Evans, helped create the late, long-distance try for David Duckham which, converted by Old, earned England a 12-12 draw.

The following day an aircraft on which many of the England team had booked seats crashed on its way to London, killing over 200 people, many of them rugby supporters. The players had changed their reservations to catch a later flight.

Smith's second appearance for England came two weeks later at Twickenham and he celebrated along with team-mates as Wales were beaten for the first time in 11 years.

He missed the first two matches of the 1975 season but returned to England's colours for the trip to Cardiff, a recall which perfectly illustrated Smith's laid-back approach to the game. He was called up on Friday morning and was at first reluctant to travel to Wales – "Tell them you couldn't find me", he said to the Roundhay man despatched to tell him of his selection. Eventually club coach Harry McMaw managed to persuade him to take the train and Smith arrived in Cardiff the evening before the match, still far from convinced that he wanted to play for England.

England lost that game 20-4 but Smith was retained for the final championship match, against Scotland at Twickenham, which was won 7-6, and was then selected for the summer tour of Australia alongside his Roundhay clubmate, scrum-half Ian Orum, but did not add to his four caps.

Smith made his first appearance for Roundhay against West Leeds Old Boys in September 1972, scoring 17 points in a 21-11 victory, and his last came in a 13-3 National Cup defeat by Gosforth in March 1976.

He played 85 games for the club, scoring 672 points, including 41 tries, and was on the winning side on 67 occasions, two other games being drawn. In the epic Yorkshire Cup final replay of 1975 against Headingley at Otley he contributed a try, a conversion, a penalty and drop goal in a 20-16 success.

He signed professional forms for Wakefield Trinity in the summer of 1976 and quickly struck up a friendship with stand-off David Topliss, who helped him make the transition from union to league. His achievements included a hat-trick of tries for Trinity at Warrington and a try-scoring appearance for England in a 15-7 victory over Wales at Widnes. But the game for which most Trinity followers remember him was the 1979 Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens at Headingley. Topliss broke from his own goal-line in the last minute and Smith made 45 yards before releasing winger Andrew Fletcher for the match-winning try. Trinity lost 12-3 to Widnes in the final.

Topliss left Wakefield to join Hull in 1980 and Smith retired shortly afterwards, becoming a postman and spending several years coaching junior rugby league in the east Leeds area.

One former Trinity committee member paid a fitting tribute to Smith, describing him as "a lithe, long-striding speed merchant with a superb side-step and wonderful dummy – and so quiet and modest". He added: "He just loved to play the game and we never seemed to realise just what a wonderful player he was."

Smith was married twice, first to Glenys then to her twin sister Diane. He was the father of four – Craig, Emma, Simon and Claire.