Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Fine debut from talented Smith

Aaron Smith of the All Blacks breaks through the tackle of Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland during the International Test Match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland. Photo / Getty Images.
Aaron Smith of the All Blacks breaks through the tackle of Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland during the International Test Match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland. Photo / Getty Images.

Two years ago Aaron Smith auditioned for the Blues' wider training group.

His skills were evident but for whatever reasons, he was not offered a contract and eased away to rugby duty down south with the Highlanders.

Tonight Smith made his test debut at the Blues HQ at Eden Park. How their coaching staff and management must have wondered what might have been.

How Smith must have been delighted Jamie Joseph liked his style and employed him down south.

At the start of this season he was probably about seventh in the list of halfbacks in the land--certainly somewhere behind Piri Weepu, Andy Ellis, Jimmy Cowan, Brendon Leonard, Alby Mathewson who had all played for the All Blacks and probably adrift of Tawera Kerr-Barlow too.

The new All Black panel reckoned Smith's skills were just what they wanted behind their pack, a crisp passing halfback to unleash a wide range of attacking talent.

They did not want indecisive halfbacks, they wanted someone with a rifle pass and enough savvy to run a test.

Shortly before kickoff the former Feilding hairdresser stood between Aaron Cruden and Adam Thomson for the national anthems.

He looked small but listed at 1.71m and 85kgs in the programme he is the same height and heavier than the great Sid Going.

It's just that there are many more tall men in the All Blacks these days than in Super Sid's time.

Smith is just a shade shorter than Graeme Bachop whose snapping delivery revolutionised the All Black game in the late 80's and early 90's.

Smith's pass is a version of those Bachop bullets which he fired out to grateful five eighths.

It was a pattern which suited the All Blacks tonight as they wound into their opening work for the season.

Smith's first touch was not a pass but a bomb from a lineout, a kick he executed perfectly for the chasing Zac Guildford.

His passes came with the snap we expected, crisper than a fresh lettuce, flat, out on front of his receivers and usually at a comfortable height.

Several times he worked a very tight shortside where his pace and deception troubled the defenders and allowed him to find his teammates.

But there was once too many with Daniel Carter wanting possession to go open, when Smith tried the narrow side again and Sam Whitelock was hammered into touch.

The 23-year-old had one snipe from a lineout, slipping into a gap and asking the defence to be super alert.

He also managed to get penalised for a crooked scrum feed which is a rarity these days but he was not finished.

He ran wide from a scrum as a decoy which allowed interplay between Kieran Read and Adam Thomson to claim a try.

Just before three-quarter time Smith was done. After a fine debut he gave way to Piri Weepu who had plenty to do to match his buddy.

The dossier on Smith would have received plenty of ticks. His passing, organisation, kicking and mix of ideas had been first rate, just something to remind the Blues what they had missed out on.

- NZ Herald

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