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

Rugby: Judder bar beneficial for rattled halfback Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith passes the ball during the Rugby Championship match between All Blacks and Argentina at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton. Photo / AFP
Aaron Smith passes the ball during the Rugby Championship match between All Blacks and Argentina at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton. Photo / AFP

It says something about this All Black team that halfback Aaron Smith, probably the world's best in his position, received an important lesson during a victory in which his team racked up 50 points.

To boil it down, Smith, playing in his 53rd rugby test on Saturday, was consumed by frustration to the point where he went away from what he does so well. Rather than getting to the ball and clearing it with his lightning feet and elastic wrists, he became bogged down by trying to fix things out of his control.

When that annoyance at Argentina's actions in making every breakdown a contest became aimed at referee Craig Joubert, it was time for a change.

Reflecting on Smith's performance, coach Steve Hansen saw two positives - the fact that the 27-year-old recognised the issue and was prepared to deal with it, and the fact his replacement, TJ Perenara, played so well for the 30 minutes he was on the field.

"The best thing that could have happened to Aaron happened," Hansen said. "He got put under a massive amount of pressure. [It's] debatable whether it was all onside pressure, but that's irrelevant. He has to learn how to cope with that.

"He got himself into a wee tangle and now he's going to have to be forced to look at that and say 'Well, how do I deal with it'? The pleasing thing was that TJ came on and had probably one of his best performances in the jersey.

"Nuggy [Smith] got caught in getting into a contest and trying to pick it up and organise, rather than clear straight off the deck which is his great strength. We've already had a chat about it and he's fine. I think he's the best halfback in the world and I think he'll bounce back. It won't do him any harm to hit a road bump.

"He can get frustrated at the best of times, he's such a competitor, that's why he's so good. But he's got to learn how to channel that in the right direction and cope when those moments don't go his way."

There were so many positives for the All Blacks in their 57-22 victory at Waikato Stadium, including the performances of Perenara, Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea and Ben Smith, that it might seem churlish to focus on the negative ones, but there is no doubt they will be addressed this week.

Apart from Smith's relative struggles, hooker Dane Coles didn't get to the level he has in the previous few weeks. After a flawless lineout performance in two tests against the Wallabies, he missed his mark several times against the Pumas and didn't make the impact in open play fans have been used to seeing.

"He didn't get into that state that I would call the red, he just made some mistakes that he doesn't normally make," Hansen said. "That might have come down to his preparation. We'll talk about that."

Coles' replacement Codie Taylor would have enjoyed his 27 minutes on the field, but one of the bigger impact players was Perenara, a man used to getting only a few minutes at the end of a test. Little Smith casts a big shadow.

"It's nice to get out there and play a few minutes and try to make an impact where I can," Perenara said. "This team prides itself on numbers one to 23 week-in, week-out. My job is to come on and be accurate and try to make an impact."

- NZ Herald

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