Ian Foster: We want Aaron Smith back to work

New Zealand All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
New Zealand All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster wants the All Blacks to field their strongest team against the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday, meaning troubled halfback Aaron Smith could play as they chase a record 18th conescutive win.

Smith became a subject of public ire following a tryst with a woman in the disabled toilet of Christchurch airport a day after playing a starring role for the All Blacks in their 41-13 demolition of South Africa. He had been with the All Blacks squad, and wearing official atire, at the time.

The episode came to light when the halfback was in Durban nearly three weeks later and he sent himself home from the tour in disgrace.

But Foster said the All Blacks are ready to welcome him back with open arms as soon as Smith is cleared by New Zealand Rugby to play again. It's not yet known when a misconduct hearing has been scheduled for.

"At the end of the day, Aaron's done what he's done and he's now got a process with New Zealand Rugby to go through and then when he comes into camp we'll know the result of that - and we'll go accordingly," Foster told Tony Veitch on Newstalk ZB.

"But our goal is that once he goes through the process, we expect him to get back to work.

"We'll assess where he's at, like we do with all our players. We'll select the best group to play at Eden Park and, quite frankly, that's what we have to do. We care for these guys. They're not immune from making mistakes. We don't want them to [make mistakes] but no one is [immune]. But we're no different to any other sector of society.

"We've just got to put our hand up, accept that, deal with that responsibly and move forward. And that involves helping the player move forward by getting the player back to work."

The misconduct process will determine what sanctions Smith should face - with a significant fine, warning and commitment to attend some kind of counselling the most likely outcome.

"I don't know if Aaron will play next week - there are a few things we have to go through - but our job is to pick the best team available to play and if there are some issues going on around the team then we just have to deal with them and make sure they don't impact on the performance," said Foster. "Some of that stuff we might think is unfair, but that's not the point. We just have to deal with it the best we can. But we expect our players to be 100 per cent focused when it comes to game time.

"There's a bit of water to go under the bridge but we'll make an assessment, as we do with all our players after a bit of a break, before we decide how we want to go forward."

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.

It was thought the All Blacks might choose this time to re-instate Smith - after some of the fervour has died and Smith's in a better head space. It could 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 the All Blacks took with Aaron 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 United States, when Cruden slipped back into the starting team and began the process of re-establishing himself and winning back the trust of his team-mates.

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