Rugby: Smith looms larger in All Blacks plans

Ben Smith of the Highlanders.  Photo / Getty Images
Ben Smith of the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images

Ben Smith's adaptability means he is likely to be included in the All Blacks squad for the first test against Ireland.

For the Highlanders fullback it will probably be a bittersweet moment following his omission from the World Cup squad but he is determined to take the chance the injuries to Richard Kahui and Cory Jane have presented.

Smith, a 25-year-old who has played two tests for the All Blacks after making his debut against Italy in 2009, spoke during the national team's training camp today of his delight at being back in the fold.

Kahui's shoulder injury and Jane's ankle problem will rule them out of the three-test Ireland series. Both probably would have been the starting wings against Ireland, with Kahui able to also play centre and both at fullback.

With the All Blacks not replacing Jane for the Auckland training camp - Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor is the favourite to join the Wellington one which starts on Sunday - Smith is edging closer to a test return.

The 35-player squad will be whittled to 30 on June 3, with the 22-man match-day squad named days before the June 9 match at Eden Park.

"I'm just going to put my best foot forward and see what happens," Smith, who can also play wing, said. "Obviously it's unfortunate for those guys who have the injuries."

Asked what position he saw himself in at the All Blacks in the near future, Smith replied: "I'm not too sure. If I manage to make that 30 I'll play anywhere, it doesn't matter to me.

"If it does happen to be on the wing I'll be happy with that, but I have to make that 30 first."

That appears to be a given considering the demise of Kahui and Jane. The five players to be cut are likely to be the youngsters brought into the squad for the experience, such as Crusaders loose forward Luke Whitelock and Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

If the All Blacks coaches name Julian Savea and Zac Guildford on the wings and Israel Dagg at fullback, Smith is likely to be included on the reserves bench. While Smith is also a candidate for a spot on the wing, his utility value could give greater balance to the bench.

Veteran Mils Muliaina left to play club rugby in Japan after the World Cup but the form of Hurricane Taylor, converted from the wing this season, has boosted the country's fullback stocks. Hurricanes first-five Beauden Barrett, included in an All Blacks squad for the first time, can also play fullback.

Smith has shone again for the Highlanders this season, especially with his counter-attacking, and said playing on the dry pitch at the indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium was a bonus.

While the injuries to Kahui and Jane are clear-cut, the results of the scans on hooker Keven Mealamu's troublesome calf have yet to be released by the All Blacks. Coach Steve Hansen said yesterday (Sun) that a decision would be made on whether to bring someone in today, but it has now been decided that a back-up to Andrew Hore will not be brought into the camp.

Either Corey Flynn, Hika Elliot or Dane Coles will be added to the squad for the Wellington camp.

Mealamu and Jane remain with the squad in Auckland, with the latter rooming with Smith.

- APNZ

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