Steve Hansen has already been blinded by reputation on one score, retaining Aaron Smith despite the little halfback's mojo departing many weeks ago at the Christchurch airport.

It is now clear that it was a mistake to take Smith on tour, post toilet tryst, with terrible performances against Ireland wrecking his reputation as the best halfback and perhaps even the best player in the game.

But Hansen might have an even bigger call to make soon, with his just-appointed captain Kieran Read going backwards at a disturbing rate.

The legendary No. 8 Read was extremely ordinary against Ireland in Dublin, where the home side should have won on the back of a stupendous display from their pack. It was a wonderful test, full of the requisite drama, and the gnawing tension that a close scoreboard provides. The last three tests against Ireland will live long in the memory.


They represent test rugby at its finest, with the 2013 game untouchable because of that amazing finish.

The latest game in Dublin is a major warning sign for All Blacks coach Hansen, one that a brave victory fired by Beauden Barrett brilliance shouldn't hide. This was a great escape. His pack was weak, his leader uninspiring.

Read is turning into a workhorse. Once refreshed, the 2017 season is shaping as a test. There is no punch, no flair, no up and at 'em right now. He made a great start, playing a big role in the opening try to Malakai Fekitoa. But that was about it from the undisputed star of the world rugby three years ago.

As the Irish loose forwards in particular went on a stampede, the All Black pack could only cling on. There was spirited resistance from young loose forwards Ardie Savea and Liam Squire, and Brodie Retallick put in a decent shift. But the repeated charges from the scarcely believable Sean O'Brien aided by Jamie Heaslip, CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier served to emphasise that Read is tiring. Heaslip trampled right over his fellow veteran Read on one occasion.

The All Blacks won't keep escaping situations like this. The Irish forwards should be furious at the incompetence of their backline. Ireland's forwards had the All Blacks on the ropes, but their backs couldn't land any blows.

As for Smith, it is hard to recall a player falling so dramatically. His selection to start this latest test can only be put down to pigheadedness from the selectors considering TJ Perenara's form and Smith's Chicago flop.

After the All Blacks took an early lead in Dublin, Smith allowed Ireland to get their assault under way with an aimless long pass in front of his posts from the kickoff. He finished his stint with three hopeless kicks early in the second half.

For sanity's sake alone, it is imperative that Perenara is rewarded with selection against France. He deserves to be there, and his team mates deserve to have him on the field. And Tawera Kerr-Barlow should be on the bench because Smith needs a break.

I'm sure Smith will find top form next year. For inspiration he only need look to Israel Dagg, who is making a spectacular comeback, a fullback reincarnated as the most complete and probably best wing in world rugby.

Smith is coming to grips with his new public persona, of golden status lost. To have been so revered, and then find sections of the public so agin him, must be a shock. His mind isn't on the job - he was nabbed for a cheap-shot offside early in Chicago, and paid with a yellow card this time which left the All Blacks under enormous pressure.

As for the 31-year-old Read, all those knocks, all those games, and all that pressure may have taken a toll. His clarity of thought must also be questioned, particularly when he strayed offside as the All Blacks launched a rare second half attack.

Read is in the All Black pantheon. But when it comes to extraordinary longevity, there may only ever be one Richie McCaw.