Whatever back three role he expertly fills, Ben Smith has much more to offer the All Blacks over the course of the next year. But as he enters the final chapter of his compelling New Zealand career, Smith is fast learning to appreciate the little things.

For he knows, in the not too distant future, his time in the jersey will be but memories.

"You talk to a lot of the guys that are a bit older and they realise that this doesn't last forever," Smith tells the Herald on the eve of his third and last test in Ireland this weekend. "You've got to make the most of it and enjoy the ride a bit too because once it's all done, you'll look back and probably wish you could go back in a time machine."

That's the way it goes for many All Blacks. One minute heads spin on debut at the gravity of the occasion and how much it means to loved ones; the next your time is done, with everything in between becoming a bit of a blur.


Sure, milestone matches and cherished trophies stand out. But it can be easy too for one tour to flow into the next, without pause for satisfaction.

Even for those fortunate to enjoy long, distinguished careers at this level, living in the bubble means always planning ahead; often overlooking the prestige, achievements and camaraderie.

Smith will be 33 by the time next year's World Cup rolls around.

While he maintains he is yet to finalise plans beyond his second pinnacle tournament, the Highlanders co-captain has been strongly linked to a seven-month stint at French club Pau, with another deal in Japan expected to follow.

Such a schedule would make sense, allowing him to set up his family after loyal service to New Zealand rugby.

Never one to give much away publicly, Smith knows countdown mode has begun. And he is, therefore, more intent than ever to grasp the significance that being this team brings.

"The older you get the more you appreciate these moments and make sure you enjoy it so when you finish you don't regret anything.

Ben Smith tackled by England's Ben Youngs. Photo / Photosport
Ben Smith tackled by England's Ben Youngs. Photo / Photosport

"I even probably took a minute against England at Twickenham to stop and think 'how cool is this'. Whereas early on I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I could have.


"It does fly by. It feels like the other day I was playing my first test. I suppose you're always looking at next week. As soon as the game finishes you're straight into that preparation and process of making sure you can nail what you need to nail."

Sitting in the Twickenham sheds after last week's tense 16-15 victory over England, Smith took the chance to take stock.

"You just appreciate being in the changing room, sitting down and talking to your mates over a beer or water. It's about appreciating that time and what you've achieved. It's important to take that time to reflect. You've always got Sunday to think about the following week."

Smith will complete something of a trifecta this weekend when he lines up in the 14 jersey in Dublin, having played fullback (2016) and centre (2013) here previously.

Few could pull off such versatility.

Widely considered the world's best fullback, his frequent positional shifts for the All Blacks are often an emotive subject, particularly in southern country where he almost holds demigod status.

Remarkably, Smith has started six tests at 13 for the All Blacks; 29 on the right wing and 30 at fullback.

Such a selfless, self-effacing character, he explains why moving around has never been an issue.

"I actually feel quite lucky that I've been given those opportunities because it gives me a different aspect of how footy is played. It gives you a good indication of what those guys are thinking in those roles.

Damian McKenzie and Ben Smith during the All Blacks' training in Dublin. Photo / Photosport
Damian McKenzie and Ben Smith during the All Blacks' training in Dublin. Photo / Photosport

"If I've shifted from 13 to wing I know what that guy is going through in that role; likewise wing to fullback so it's actually really helpful having played a few positions. I've enjoyed the shift when it has happened."

Damian McKenzie, Smith, and Rieko Ioane form the All Blacks' latest preferred back three, with McKenzie's ability to offer a second playmaker deemed valuable.

"When I have played wing I've tried to add value by talking to Damian and helping him so we can work together as a back three.

"No matter where you play it's about being a unit and making sure you create space for each other and we are on the same page while looking for opportunities. It honestly doesn't faze me where I play."

Critics will argue Smith's touches and, therefore, influence is more limited on the edge, but he is better than most at embracing his roaming commission, whether that be popping up at first-receiver or on the other side of the field to boost off after box kicks.

"The way the game goes sometimes if you just stay on the right hand side and don't go looking for work you can get a bit frustrated so it's making sure you're looking for little opportunities where you can have impact but staying within our structure is important as well."

In all 75 tests, Smith has certainly made that impact.

This week will be no different, only he may again stop to savour the moment.