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

Patrick McKendry: All Blacks galvanised by Smith saga

There is no doubt Smith made a poor decision, one that reflects poorly on the All Blacks. Photo / Brett Phibbs
There is no doubt Smith made a poor decision, one that reflects poorly on the All Blacks. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Tests don't come much bigger for the All Blacks than those against the Springboks in South Africa.

In that respect, the motivation should take care of itself. But in case any extra were needed, the fallout from the Aaron Smith affair could provide it.

There will be serious concern within the All Blacks as to how the unprecedented media firestorm which greeted the news of Smith's unwise meeting with a woman in a toilet at Christchurch airport will affect the 27-year-old.

His emotional reaction when facing the New Zealand media pack in Durban before he left hinted at the depth of his remorse. He will face more scrutiny when he arrives home.

Coach Steve Hansen asked if that might be the end of it as far as the media spotlight on Smith is concerned. Mea culpa done, perhaps some breathing space given. But that is a forlorn hope, unfortunately. In this digital age when every click on a story is treasured, the spotlight will remain.

Smith faces big challenges yet.

But far from providing a distraction, the whole sordid affair is likely to have drawn the All Blacks closer. They respond well to challenges - winning back-to-back World Cup, overcoming the departures of six veterans including Richie McCaw and Dan Carter following the last one, and the determination to set a new world record for consecutive test wins.

This is another one. In terms of replacing Smith, considered the best halfback in the world, first five-fullback Damian McKenzie has been training as a back-up to TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

For the players, it's business as usual. It will be for the management staff, too. They would all have dealt with some tricky situations before, but this wouldn't have been an easy time, either.

There have apparently been some very late nights as they dealt with the Smith problem, and it won't be until after the test kicks off at Kings Park will we know how good, or "bone deep" as Hansen describes it, the preparation has been.

A compelling performance against a struggling Springboks team wouldn't necessarily be surprising, given the All Blacks' form this year. But it would represent a statement - no one is bigger than the team, but sometimes teams can pull together for an individual.

There is no doubt Smith made a poor decision, one that reflects poorly on the All Blacks. That's why he's not playing his 55th test tomorrow morning. But his continued humiliation will not have impressed them. The best thing they can do to change the headlines is turn that heat on the Springboks from the opening whistle.

- NZ Herald

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

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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