Fletcher Smith may just be the real deal and a long-term prospect to be one of New Zealand's premier rugby playmakers.

Coaches can often get into a bit of trouble when they start signaling out players, but you sense it's becoming increasingly so for Waikato coach Andrew Strawbridge to pour cold water over just how impressive his first five has been to start 2019.

Smith was in stellar form again on Saturday night, playing yet another crucial hand in his side's 31-26 win over Counties Manakau.

The 24-year old doesn't look like much phases him in his role – making good decisions with a strong ability to adjust to what the opposition defense is doing and act accordingly.


The leading points scorer in Mitre 10 Cup last season, Smith has come into 2019 looking all the more certain in his play style, fresh off a debut Super Rugby stint with the Hurricanes.

A University Club product, Smith is also yet failing to miss a single kick on goal after three games. Not too shabby at all.

Enterprising with shades of Aaron Cruden about his play style – Smith looks as if he can do it all around the park.

Chipping the ball into the smallest bit of space, allowing his midfielders to run onto the ball with ease when the opposition defense is slow to react, Smith can also comfortably sit back in the pocket and find solid territory with his wide-ranging punt.

On goal, Smith has proven his can slot the ball through the uprights from anywhere on the park.

Furthermore – you sense there is still a lot more to his game yet to be discovered. That discovery is set to continue throughout Mitre 10 Cup, revealing a bit more about it each week as Smith becomes an integral part of how Waikato score their points.

Waikato went into their third-round clash against Counties Manakau with an injury scare after losing in-form midfielder Quinn Tupaea who was rested as a precaution after suffering a minor leg injury in Thursday training.

Returning All Black Sevens sensation Declan O'Donnell made his selection count, looking deadly every time he got possession and getting a try too for his efforts.


Equally as impressive was his winging partner Bailyn O'Sullivan and loose forward Luke Jacobson who put an exclamation point on his last chance to further impress All Black selectors.

The bonus point victory wasn't quite as comfortable as it looked like it would be, and that's where the biggest point of concern will be for Waikato when they reflect on this match.

Three unanswered tries late in the game saw Counties come storming back into contention after the game was all but gone, signaling a loss of intensity from Waikato, particularly in terms of discipline after giving away several late penalties.

The physical battle was far improved from the week earlier, but there is a bit of work to do still, particularly toward putting together a more complete performance and ensuring drops in concentration don't occur at times when the pressure is off.

Waikato's next opponent will be Auckland back in front of their home fans at FMG Stadium on Saturday.

Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton and covers rugby, cricket and social issues.