Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Aaron Smith's All Blacks absence could extend beyond one match

Aaron Smith will have plenty on his mind as he heads back to New Zealand. Photo / Getty
Aaron Smith will have plenty on his mind as he heads back to New Zealand. Photo / Getty

Aaron Smith will have plenty to think about on the long and lonely trip home to Dunedin from Durban via Johannesburg and Sydney.

Near the top of the list might be when he will play for the All Blacks again after being suspended from Sunday's test against the Springboks at Kings Park for his alleged activities in a toilet at Christchurch airport.

His misconduct hearing will determine when he does play again, and, given he has been in trouble before and the fallout attached to his latest misdemeanor, Smith's ban could be extended to include the dead Bledisloe Cup rubber between the All Blacks and Wallabies at Eden Park on October 22.

There won't be a trophy at stake but the test could be hugely significant in another way - should the All Blacks beat the Boks, a victory over the struggling Australians will set a new world record for the consecutive number of test victories.

The record test streak for top tier nations is 17, which the All Blacks have accomplished twice - in 1965-69, and more recently in 2013-14. The Springboks also accomplished it between 1997-98.

It's difficult to know which way New Zealand Rugby will go with Smith, who has previously been censured for missing a curfew and was forced to suffer the embarrassment of seeing a very personal picture leaked via social media. What he got up to in the disabled toilet wasn't a criminal offence, but in his case he is unfortunate that it happened after the Chiefs stripper scandal and the handling of Wellington player Losi Filipo's assault charge.

Questions might be asked by the selectors about whether Smith would be in a fit state to mentally prepare properly for the test against the Wallabies. The sense of moral outrage, led by many media outlets and commentators, has been considerable, and, unfortunately for him, his every move will be closely watched.

His employers could take a harsher line because of all that and the increased level of media scrutiny surrounding their every disciplinary move, but the 27-year-old Smith, who is regarded as the best halfback in the world, is unlikely to have to face an extended period on the sidelines.

He could face a fine and the chance to cool his heels for an extra week, but should be included in the All Blacks' November tour of Chicago, Rome, Dublin and Paris.

Regardless of all that, the All Blacks are determined not to let the Smith affair distract them from their task of beating the Boks at Kings Park on Sunday.

Loose forward enforcer Jerome Kaino, back into the team after a shoulder injury, said: "We've got a goal we want to achieve," Kaino said. "Playing the Springboks in South Africa is tough. For us our focus is solely going to be on the game and what we can do to play well and get the result.

"A lot of guys in this team have been around for a while and have gone through a lot on and off the field so I think we've got enough experience to focus the team on what is most important.

"As leaders we've got a responsibility to show the way."

- NZ Herald

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