Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

News of Aaron Smith's return to All Blacks must be imminent

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

The All Blacks will play the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday with a world record on the line and still there is no word from New Zealand Rugby on whether halfback Aaron Smith will be sanctioned for his well-publicised use of a toilet cubicle at Christchurch airport several weeks ago.

News on that front, and whether he will assemble with the team when they gather in Auckland tomorrow morning, must be given soon. There has been no word on a misconduct hearing or even if he is required to attend one in person after he left Durban for his Dunedin home before the All Blacks put on a record 57-15 scoreline against the Springboks.

It could be that NZ Rugby send a simple statement tonight or tomorrow and that a coach - possibly Ian Foster as he is due for media duties following the team's assembly - will front a press pack.

Clarity will be required as much for Smith's teammates as anyone else. This test is effectively a dead rubber given the Bledisloe Cup has been locked up by the All Blacks for yet another year, but a potential 18th consecutive test win is a prize in itself.

The team and head coach Steve Hansen have made no secret about their desire to make history following their deeds at last year's World Cup where they won back-to-back titles for the first time.

But although the recent drama has made headlines around the world, it's unlikely to be a distraction to the team itself. The build-up to the Boks test was as fraught as any they have faced in recent history, yet their performance was once again world class.

One theory is that Smith, 27, and regarded as the world's best No9, will assemble and train with the All Blacks but will again be overlooked for the match-day squad of 23 at Eden Park, a graveyard for Wallabies teams since 1986.

TJ Perenara has claims for the jersey anyway given his performance at Kings Park and the week earlier in Buenos Aires during the victory over the Pumas, and will be trusted to do the job again. He has been in a rich vein of form after helping to lead the Hurricanes to their maiden Super Rugby championship.

Smith, then, will be able to train and mix with his teammates again without the glare of the media spotlight, which has been intense since the news broke. The All Blacks already tightly control the media's access to the team, and will feel they can comfortably shield Smith from further scrutiny.

Hansen is extremely unlikely to want to cut Smith adrift. That's not his style, and regardless Smith has many years of international rugby ahead of him.

An assimilation back into the match-day squad via the All Blacks tour of Chicago, Rome, Dublin and Paris is seen as the most likely option for Smith.
Either way, news is likely to come soon.

- NZ Herald

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