Aaron Smith had what coach Steve Hansen described as a difficult night in his last test against Argentina. Tonight he responded by making life very difficult for the Springboks.
Dragged off early for TJ Perenara in Hamilton, under a full moon at AMI Stadium he played like a man possessed. The Boks, taking note of the Pumas' ability to slow the All Blacks' ball, threw a fair bit at Smith and the breakdown, but the little Highlander was simply too hot to handle.
His crucial assists in the build-ups to the tries scored by Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Ardie Savea were one thing, his ability to be at every breakdown no matter how fast or how long the break up-field quite another. There is little doubt now, surely, that he is the best halfback in the world. His opposite Faf de Klerk had a good season at the Lions, the losing Super Rugby finalists, this year, but Smith is on a different level.
The All Blacks initially were a little frustrated by the Boks. The quick ball wasn't coming as quickly as they would have liked, and pressure couldn't be maintained.
In Smith they had the perfect fire-starter, his long cut-out pass to Dane Coles gave the hooker an assist for Dagg's try, and the No9 featured a couple of times before Ben Smith and Ardie Savea scored theirs. For Savea it was a second test try on his starting debut. For brother Julian, it was his first ever try against the Boks, his 43rd in total and yet another box ticked as he builds a remarkable tally.
Coles was another who proved his quality after struggling a little at Waikato Stadium. His pace and handling skills could be compared with those of a loose forward, but in truth they are probably closer to a midfield back.
That ability to put doubt into a defender's mind means he is now constantly prowling along the sidelines, enabling Kieran Read to operate slightly closer in-field.
That the All Blacks over-ran the Boks in the final quarter was no surprise. The shift in intensity was predictable but not less difficult to stop. However, they had to put in some serious ground work, as they knew they would, and in Smith and Coles they had the perfect foundation builders.
Smith was replaced after 64 minutes, and Perenara, following up his excellent performance at Waikato Stadium, responded with a try as he seamlessly continued what Smith had started.
As for the Boks, their tactics at attempting to run the ball out of their territory in the first half was surprising in the extreme and appeared to go against coach Allister Coetzee's recommendations. That's the thing with this All Blacks team - to beat them (and they are now on a 15-test winning streak) - you have to go well outside your comfort zone.
They don't appear to have the players or the tactics to take the All Blacks out of theirs, but in Aaron Smith and Coles, Steve Hansen has two who would make life difficult for any team.