Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: How Steve Hansen rebuilds Aaron Smith

All Blacks Aaron Smith. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung /
All Blacks Aaron Smith. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung /

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has an uncanny ability to accurately gauge the emotional state of his players.

It's arguably his trump card - an almost sixth sense that enables him to know what's in the best long term interests of an individual.

Time and again he's carefully managed a damaged soul back to full noise - think Julian Savea this year, Aaron Cruden in 2014 and Ma'a Nonu in 2012. His next challenge is going to be rebuilding Aaron Smith back to his world class best.

Smith, entirely through his own crass and extraordinarily thoughtless actions, has endured the worst week of his professional career.

From being lauded for his playing genius in Christchurch against the Springboks where he was the most influential player on the field, he's now the source of justifiable public ire for what he did the next day at the airport.

The reaction has been extreme and relentless and Smith must wonder how things will be for him when he pops out to buy some milk.

He's not only having to deal with this new found position as a target for verbal abuse every time he steps out of his house, he's also trying to piece together a personal life that is presumably not in great shape.

He's also waiting to hear his fate in regard to a more significant punishment than the one-game imposed by his All Blacks peers.

A misconduct process carried out by New Zealand Rugby will determine what sanctions Smith should face - with a significant fine, warning and commitment to attend some kind of counselling the most likely outcome.

It's by no means certain, but Smith will most likely be available to play against the Wallabies at Eden Park on October 22. But it would be a surprise if he's selected in the 23. A big surprise.

As someone who understands human fallibility, Hansen knows that time is the best healer in any rehabilitation process. Start Smith in Auckland and it will open the door for the build-up to be all about one man. It will be a massive distraction - not so much for the rest of the squad, but for Smith. He'll prepare for a huge test under unprecedented scrutiny and that won't be conducive to him being able to do his job.

It also opens the possibility of Smith being mocked by the home crowd - for the smallest mistake to play on his mind and further agitate the crowd. The psychological damage of that could be lasting.

Simply put, it wouldn't be good for Smith or the All Blacks if he's involved in the next test. He needs more time and, in this case, more distance.

The All Blacks head for Chicago at the end of the month to play Ireland, and will then carry on to Europe for three more tests in Rome, Dublin and Paris. That's the time to return Smith to the fold - after some of the fervour has died and Smith's in a better head space. It also makes sense to return him to his No 9 jersey on foreign soil, where the media scrutiny will be less intense.

This was the path Hansen took with Cruden after the first-five missed a flight to Argentina. Cruden didn't return to the team for the third Bledisloe test in Brisbane - the first available opportunity after serving his punishment. It was the test in Chicago, against the USA, where Cruden slipped back into the starting team and began the process of re-establishing himself and winning back the trust of his teammates.

That same path now seems like the right one for his Manawatu teammate to tread.

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 27 Oct 2016 13:16:06 Processing Time: 629ms