Super Rugby: Highlanders icons Ben Smith, Nasi Manu reunite to help guide team towards 2023 title

The masterminds of the Highlanders' 2015 Super Rugby title are back with the franchise

Ben Smith and Nasi Manu went in very different directions after the Highlanders' first - and so far only - title, but now their journeys have come full circle with the goal of repeating history.

The last time the pair were together in blue and gold, the Highlanders won Super Rugby for the first time, a feat the class of 2023 like to remind them of.

"They joke about the status, like 'oh, they're the are the greatest captains ever'," Manu told Newshub. 

The co-captains of the 2015 Super Rugby title are back in the Highlanders' camp.

"I had no idea that 'Bender' [Smith] was going to be part of the management too," added Manu. "It was a bit of a surprise."

Manu will play a mentoring role, an ear for the next generation. Part of the role is taking every player out for lunch - but don't ask who's paying.

"There's a grey area there," he joked. "So far, it's me and I get reimbursed, but the reimbursements are taking a while."

Smith returns to a specialist role as resource coach.

"Part-time coaching, trying to work with the back three around how they get involved with the game and also around our attack, and our counter and turnover ball," the former All Blacks fullback said.

Seven years after lifting the Super Rugby trophy together, the chemistry is still there.

"He does run a really good Nachos Casino," added Smith. "He's got the full kit, as far as the chips, he's got the mat that comes out."

But they still have still more to learn about each other.

"Why are you called 'Bender'?" asked Manu.

"They just came up with Bender from 'Ben' - really original, aye?" Smith replied.

Nasi Manu.
Nasi Manu. Photo credit: photo

"Or the Mayor of Dunedin, he's got a key and everything," retorted Manu. "The back of his house backs onto the golf course, aye."

As for Manu's nickname, it's now part of Highlanders folklore. 'Nacho' debuted at Smith's stag do.

"Halfway through, he changed it to Nacho Libre," said Smith. "Everyone was in the pub and he was like 'Nacho'."

If they can help guide the 2023 side to the title, there may be a few more nicknames coined along the way.