Aaron Smith. Now there's a subject and a half.

Remember the real Aaron Smith who was the best halfback in the world, maybe the best in All Black history, and the most influential player in world rugby to many judges. Not right now though.

He was as nondescript as Aaron Smith could be, as the Highlanders failed to turn their territorial and possession advantages into victory against the defensively energetic Chiefs.

Put it this way: Smith did not bounce back to approach his best. And that's what a lot of us assumed would happen, perhaps over-optimistically.


His lame performance did make you wonder if we are witnessing the most savage decline of a rugby superstar.

Even as an ardent critic of Smith, for his insulting behaviour towards disabled people via his sexual liaison in an airport toilet last year, it was sad to watch him struggle at his home stadium on Friday night.

The nadir came when he threw an intercept pass straight to James Lowe, compounding the problem with a poor attempt at a make-up tackle as Lowe stormed off for a try. More than that though, the trademark energy wasn't there.

Smith was distracted and performed poorly when recalled by the All Blacks. He still doesn't seem to have his mind in the moment and on the job. Maybe it was first round nerves and cohesion problems.

Rieko Ioane - the real deal, already. But his brother Akira is off the pace for now. Photo / Photosport
Rieko Ioane - the real deal, already. But his brother Akira is off the pace for now. Photo / Photosport

Don't be fooled by the Blues' massive opening win, even if it was a decent morale boost.

I'm sure coach Tana Umaga wasn't fooled. The Melbourne Rebels, who look weak on paper and the field, found it quite easy to get past the initial tacklers but didn't know what to do after that. They were eventually overwhelmed by the Blues' individual superiority.

The Blues' discipline was also a worry, and they were eased into the contest thanks to an awful display from the tee by Rebels goalkicker Jackson Garden-Bachop.

In a tale of two brothers, centre Reiko Ioane underlined his class and amazing potential, although he's going to be targeted by much better teams than Melbourne during the year. He is a serious weapon though who will be a game changer for the Blues and All Blacks.

But I doubt the much heralded Akira Ioane will ever be a test forward. Ioane, who started at No. 8, should still be learning his craft as a late-game impact forward because he is still a raw recruit.

He has a habit of trying to absorb tackles and then make progress, which doesn't work. He seemed out of kilter. The Blues need Jerome Kaino back, fast.

It's hard to get a handle on whether Kaino will play against the Chiefs on Friday night. If the great man plays, I'm prepared to (nervously) pick a very narrow Blues win. If he doesn't, the Chiefs will win.


Crusader Israel Dagg is in a great frame of mind, and his comeback from the World Cup non-selection doldrums keeps gathering pace highlighted by a wonderful sideline save against the Brumbies.