Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Smith savours redemption

Aaron Smith of the All Blacks kicks ahead during the Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and South Africa. Photo / Getty Images.
Aaron Smith of the All Blacks kicks ahead during the Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and South Africa. Photo / Getty Images.

A bad start, a glorious end - a week really is a long time in test football as Aaron Smith can now testify.

Dropped to the bench for coming back to the hotel late after the game in Wellington, Smith had to give up his No 9 shirt to Piri Weepu. The older statesman had a chance to make a case to keep it, but his first half effort was lacking the punch, zip and dynamism that Smith brought when he came out after half-time.

Aided by the fact the All Black forwards were slowly turning the screw and handling the contact zones better, Smith was able to edge the tempo, probe a few holes and just give his side the life they needed.

From being stuck on the back foot, Smith's arrival suddenly paved the way for a transition to the front foot and then it was his glorious break on the Bok 22, where he stepped and ducked into the clear and then skipped past Zane Kirchner to put the All Blacks 15-8 ahead.

"He gave us the response we were looking for," said All Black Steve Hansen.

"He gave us the only response he could be satisfied with and he took his try well.

"He made a mistake [in breaching protocol] but we have all made mistakes and he has learned a vital lesson."

Smith wasn't the only one to respond to the challenge a committed Boks side presented. Their relentless physicality forced the All Blacks to dig deep, to find the physical capacity to live with the pounding and the mental capacity to believe they could eventually persevere.

Richie McCaw was frighteningly good; Kieran Read not far behind and Brodie Retallick made a real difference from the bench. The front-row were still going strong in the final 20 minutes and Liam Messam was staunch on defence.

"I think we understand that was a torrid test," said Hansen. "The opposition were desperate and played with a lot of physical commitment and it tested our character. We can be really proud of the character shown by the elder statesmen and by the younger players as well.

We are proud we have gone undefeated but we are still looking for an improvement in our performance as always."

That last point will get more air time behind closed doors after the All Blacks reconvene late this week. Morne Steyn, amazingly for him, couldn't hit a barn door. Things may have been drastically different if he'd been on target as they would have been had Dean Greyling not lost the plot with what Hansen described as a "cheap shot".

It was a crazy move from the reserve prop and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer wasn't going to defend it. "I'd like to apologise to Richie. That was unacceptable."

- Herald on Sunday

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