Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Smith's efforts reason for celebration

No apology needed from All Black coach Steve Hansen after winger's vital try had him out of his seat and demonstrating uncharacteristic exuberance.

Ben Smith breaks clear to score the All Blacks' third try against Argentina yesterday. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Smith breaks clear to score the All Blacks' third try against Argentina yesterday. Photo / Getty Images

All Blacks 33
Pumas 15

All Black coach Steve Hansen felt the need to apologise for his antics in the coaches' box after Ben Smith's second try, his team's fourth, against the Pumas yesterday.

Unfortunately television viewers worldwide were denied the sight of Hansen and Co celebrating what could be a crucial bonus point for the All Blacks ahead of next Sunday's showdown against the Springboks in Johannesburg, but there was no missing the quality of the player who helped to provide it.

Wing Ben Smith is becoming an always vital cog in this All Black machine - his shift to the midfield once Ma'a Nonu went off late in the second half a taste of things to come - and the fact that the 27-year-old Highlanders player scored the vital try probably gave an extra boost to what was presumably a slightly over-the-top celebration, by All Black coaches' standards anyway.

"I might have got a little bit excited in the box when we scored it so apologies to anyone who thought it was over-exuberant," Hansen said.

The All Black coach doesn't like to appear vainglorious or immodest, hence the apology. The same could be said of the almost painfully shy Smith, but if ever there was a player who deserves to have a light shone on his talents it is the outside back from Dunedin.

Each of his tries yesterday was spectacular in its own way. The second, which brought Hansen out of his chair, came just before fulltime. With nothing on in terms of options when receiving the ball about 15m out from the Pumas' line, Smith, in his 20th test, lived up to his "Ghost" nickname, jinking and swerving around three defenders to crash over.

The first one owed plenty to Nonu's sleight of hand when a dummy and pass into the gap which Smith quickly filled was too much for Argentina's first line of defence, and Smith's sidestep was far too good for fullback Juan Martin Hernandez.

In the June series against France, Hansen had the option of trying Smith at centre in place of namesake Conrad but chose to keep him on the right wing in order to develop his confidence. He surely has that now. Smith has developed into one of the All Blacks' most consistent backs - he is definitely the most consistent of the team's outsides.

Whereas Julian Savea and Israel Dagg can be hit-and-miss, Smith delivers time and again. The only question is, can he do the same at centre when Conrad takes his sabbatical? We shall know soon enough - if not in the dead Bledisloe Cup test in his hometown on October 19 then on the northern tour a few weeks later.

As always, Smith was giving little away afterwards, but Hansen was in no doubt what that fourth try meant for the All Blacks.

"They're going to have to play now, they're going to have to get four tries to get the five points," Hansen said of the Boks' task at Johannesburg.

"Our guys are already looking forward to it, they've already starting talking about it, so it will be no problem getting them up."

- NZ Herald

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