Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Smith grows in belief after unbroken run in series

Ben Smith was one of the most penetrative All Black backs in the third test against France at New Plymouth. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Smith was one of the most penetrative All Black backs in the third test against France at New Plymouth. Photo / Getty Images

Centre, wing or fullback - the questions about where Ben Smith is best suited are likely to continue for some time.

The man who All Blacks coach Steve Hansen reckons was the back of the series appears to be relieved simply to be able to say he finally feels comfortable at this level.

Outstanding in Auckland and Christchurch, right wing Smith was one of the few All Blacks backs to shine in New Plymouth.

He scored his team's first try with a nice piece of pace and skill and was forever leaping to receive high kicks and testing the defence on the counter. He was one of the most penetrative of the All Blacks' backs.

"I'm just getting more confident in the environment," he said. "You get more confidence from playing week in, week out, so that's helped."

Confidence doesn't seem to be an issue for Smith on the field but the All Blacks coaches still believe he has work to do in the area of self-belief.

After mainly being used as a substitute since his All Blacks debut 15 tests ago in 2009, Smith has started the past three. He played 80 minutes in Auckland and was replaced late on in Christchurch and at Yarrow Stadium.

Backs coach Ian Foster agreed Smith had benefited from his time in the No14 jersey, the selectors resisting the temptation to try him at centre.

Smith's combination with fullback Israel Dagg has been excellent and there was a new component in the back three on Saturday with the addition of Rene Ranger on the left wing ahead of Julian Savea.

"Ben has obviously been a big part of that [back three combination]," Foster said.

"He brought great form into this campaign. I think the last three weeks he has grown and I thought he looked settled.

"It was always the plan to give him three in a row in that position because we really felt it would give him a lot of confidence ... and he showed that."

Smith's performances in the three tests were one of the main positives for Hansen. He was consistent under the high ball - an important role for the modern wing - but carried on his broken-field running for which he has been receiving continued plaudits at the Highlanders.

"For me, I enjoy counter-attack, that's something I enjoy doing, having a bit of a go when it's on. You've got to use the attributes that you've got."

Asked about the potential to move to centre following Conrad Smith's sabbatical, Ben Smith said he would play whatever role for the team he could.

- NZ Herald

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