Trumbull’s Corbin Smith, USA Rugby MVP, heads to Hartpury in England

That Trumbull’s Corbin Smith earned a spot on the USA U-18 national rugby team for the elite Corendon Tour in Amsterdam comes as no surprise.

Smith has been playing rugby since he was seven, competed for Eagles Impact Rugby Academy, a launching pad to the USA team, and is also an exceptional football player.

It’s also no surprise that Team USA swept opponents from the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium, with Smith among the stars.

When he was named the MVP of the tour, however, even Smith admitted it was an “honestly eye-opening” moment.

“I have faith in my abilities, but it’s different when someone else shows you the faith that they have in you,” Smith said. “I didn’t even think I was the best player on the team.

“I’m surrounded by all these dudes who are really, really good, the best in the country, and we’re playing against other dudes who are the best in their countries. So to win the MVP was pretty unreal.”

And there was more to come.

During the Corendon Tour, a coach from England came to watch Smith play. Shortly after, Smith was offered to play for Hartpury University in Gloucestershire.

The Hartpury Rugby Football Club plays in the English Rugby Union and is a major power in the sport.

The opportunity was too great to pass on.

Smith, who was set to join his older brother Aidan on Kutztown University’s storied rugby program this fall, has decommitted from the Pennsylvania school.

“I’m pretty excited for the rugby — that’s my No. 1 thing on why I’m going,” Smith said. “But to be in a new culture is really cool. When I was in Amsterdam, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the city, Europe, everything about it. So I feel that going into another country with people who didn’t grow up the way I did is going to be really cool.”

The road from Trumbull to England started at the Eagles Impact Rugby Academy with Salty Thompson, coach and director of player development. Smith said it was Thompson who recommended that he try out for Team USA this past winter after football season. Smith took part in a camp which ended in early January and then awaited word.

During the spring, while playing for the newly formed Trumbull High rugby team, Smith received the word.

“I was about to take a shower after a game and I looked at my phone and saw the email,” Smith said. “It was unreal.”

Smith began training for the tour once high school season was over and eventually made the trip overseas.

“When I saw the team, there were some good players here,” Smith said. “It was pretty intimidating but I had played with most of them at the camp, so I knew what the team was about. There were some new players that were added and it was a great team.”

The U.S. opened against the Netherlands, which was playing at home, on July 9 and Smith started at wing.

At halftime, the U.S. was being shut out. The tide turned in the second half, with Smith scoring two tries, the rugby equivalent of a touchdown.

“We put our subs in, I stayed in, and we just blew them out,” Smith said. “I scored two tries, I was kicking field goals, so I had a bunch of points that way.

“It went down to the wire. We came back, went up by a lot, and then they started coming back. We were up by two points and on the last play of the game, we were kicking off and we got our own kickoff and scored. The game was over.”

The U.S. won that game 31-23, then routed Canada 38-10 on July 13, with Smith having three tries and four conversion kicks for 23 points. The U.S. finished with a 47-20 romp over Belgium on July 16.

Smith, who had 1,723 yards from scrimmage and scored 25 touchdowns for coach Marce Petroccio’s Trumbull football team last fall, had offers to play football in college, but his heart belonged to rugby.

“You do everything,” he said. “As you get to higher-level football, you choose one position and you’ve got to stay with it because that’s how the sport is. In rugby, you have to be great at every skill. So there’s running, kicking, tackling. You’re not just good at running routes or finding holes or blocking. You do everything, and I think that’s what’s the most fun about it.”

Although he’s ready to depart Trumbull for England, Smith leaves behind a strong legacy as part of the first-ever Trumbull rugby team this spring.

The Eagles are coached by Smith’s father, J.T., who played rugby during his college years in Canada and introduced his sons to the game at an early age.

Smith said his father does great work with both new and experienced players, and he sees a bright future ahead at Trumbull.

“Everyone improved really quickly, honestly way quicker than I expected,” Smith said. “We played very well in the playoffs. The kids that are there right now have a lot of potential, they’re very good and the incoming freshman class and the year behind that are very good players.

“They know how to play already, so they’re going to be very good.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports