Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Aaron Smith is the best halfback ever

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My man of the series between the All Blacks and Wales was Beauden Barrett, without a doubt.

He grabbed his unexpected chance with every limb, to a degree you can now strongly argue he is the best test first five-eighths option. Aaron Cruden isn't putting attacking performances on the board to match what Barrett did against Wales. Barrett's fast feet are lethal and he surely deserves to be freed from his super-sub constraints. In that regard, the Welsh series may prove to be a crucial turning point in the building of the next World Cup team.

The Welsh wing Liam Williams was so impressive in all regards in a team which was completely overpowered that he might be my runner-up. It is difficult for any player to shine when their side is getting hammered, and wings are often at the mercy of what is going on around them. Williams was excellent, and turned his talents to defensive brilliance in Dunedin.

But the eye was drawn somewhere else watching a replay of the third test. Hand on heart, Aaron Smith might be the best halfback I've seen, from any country. Yes, it's a pointless exercise judging players from different ages, and sometimes even those from the same age. But Smith deserves recognition, as already belonging in the pantheon.

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Gareth Edwards - the Welsh maestro - will never be dislodged from many hearts as the finest player to wear the number nine jersey.

There have been many great halfbacks, but Edwards was something else by every account. His timing and burst of energy to finish THAT try for the Barbarians against the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973 said it all. Watching replays still sends shivers down the spine. There is another iconic image of Edwards, from the triumphant Lions tour of New Zealand in 1971, when the timing and power of a fend on Bob Burgess seems to lift the first five-eighths off the ground.

From a New Zealand perspective, no halfback has had an aura to match that of Sid Going. Super Sid was by no means immaculate, but when at his best, his teams could indulge in nine man rugby and due to his passing frailties, often did. Dave Loveridge was immaculate. There have been many other fine halfbacks, from South Africa and Australia in particular. But none like Aaron Smith.

The speed of his passes and relentless accuracy of everything he does is so metronome-like that you get to a point of taking it for granted. Smith is a machine with flair and to use a wholly appropriate sports cliche, has re-defined the standards of a position.

His kicking and passing is based on pure techniques which never falter, from a perfect anchoring of the feet to the sweeping follow through from his passes and the head remaining aimed at the point of contact after punts. Throw in those darting runs, the linking, picking out opportunities with off-the-cuff long passes, the energy and enthusiasm...he's the best we've ever had by a long chalk.

It means the All Blacks' first receivers are at a huge advantage, and Smith's prowess will also provide vital space as Steve Hansen and friends build a new backline, a job that is not going entirely to plan.

When the Chiefs' Tawera Kerr-Barlow emerged, it looked as though the All Blacks had uncovered an outstanding attacking halfback. For one reason or another, he hasn't quite kicked on. The main reason he won't kick on is Aaron Smith - no one is close to challenging for his jersey.

The little halfback does have an annoying trait, the over clapping and celebrating of battles within the battle, like big scrum wins. Mr Clappy must drive the opposition quietly mad but when it comes to dealing with Smith, psychological warfare is the least of their problems. There has been a lot written about him, and his excellence is hardly a secret. Joining in is irresistible.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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