There will be, in the next month or so, confirmation that a handful of key All Blacks are staying in New Zealand for the long term, one of whom will be Aaron Smith.

His news might get a little lost in the scheme of things and there will be plenty of seasoned observers who might not see Smith's retention as being the big, big victory for New Zealand Rugby that it is.

A few years ago there was universal agreement Smith was the best halfback in the world game. A game-changing player for the All Blacks in the way he could control the tempo of their attack and spark them from lacklustre to electric.

He was quite unfathomably brilliant in the early rounds of the 2016 Rugby Championship until it all went wrong. Smith's world fell apart in September that year when he was at the centre of an unprecedented media storm relating to an incident everyone would rather not be reminded of in a Christchurch toilet cubicle.

Advertisement

He hasn't been the same player since. His confidence was shattered as a result of being front page news for all the wrong reasons and ever since he's played as if he's never quite found the same conviction about who he is.

He's been occasionally distracted during tests – caught up in trying to referee them and then obviously frustrated by South Africa's Faf de Klerk last year who managed to be more of a nuisance than he had any right to be.

Smith's last truly breathtaking performance came in Christchurch 2016 against the Springboks, the day before he disgraced himself at the airport and while he's had a handful of good tests since, he's been more so-so than wow.

Aaron Smith breaks away during The Rugby Championship game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Photo / Getty
Aaron Smith breaks away during The Rugby Championship game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Photo / Getty

And because of that flat-line on his performance chart and the sense that he was one player before he disgraced himself and another one after it, there is no longer universal agreement about his value to the national team.

But there are several factors to persuade against dismissing his importance, not the least of which is that while he hasn't been consistently brilliant in the last two years, he's still been the best halfback in the country.

TJ Perenara has never quite managed to convince that he's a better option than even a not-quite fully-firing Smith.

Nor is there any indication that there is a young contender emerging with the sort of irresistible force that says Smith's days are numbered as the premier halfback after the World Cup.

There is a bit of noise being made about his understudy at the Highlanders, but Folau Fakatava is an untested 19-year-old with an enormous way to go to prove he's even Super Rugby ready.

Advertisement

But most importantly Smith has started the season with a degree of composure and confidence that has been missing these last two years, which suggests that he's found the stability and certainty in his personal life that has enabled him to reconnect with who he is.

With a baby on the way and a flourishing gym business in Dunedin, rugby isn't his everything and he looks like he is playing rugby for enjoyment again.

He looks like he's playing with a clearer mind which has always been the key to his game. When he plays on a mix of auto-pilot and instinct he's deadly, but not so good when he overthinks things.

The fact he's also sure he is committing to stay in New Zealand will give him a deeper foundation of stability and he will most likely once again prove he's in that select group, alongside Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Sonny Bill Williams and Ben Smith that make a tangible and significant difference to the way the All Blacks play.

Retallick at his best gives the All Blacks a bruising ball carrying influence in the middle of the field. Whitelock brings an aerial portfolio that destroys opposition lineouts.

Read, when he's at 100 per cent, gives the All Blacks a supremely athletic, ball player at the base of the scrum.

Williams can play the All Blacks through the middle of a rush defence with his unparalleled ability to offload out of heavy contact and Ben Smith turns backfield pressure into attacking opportunities.

What Smith does is determine the speed and width with which the All Blacks play. He's the beating heart as it were and look back through the last seven years since he came into the team and there will be a direct link between Smith's individual performance and the collective performance of the All Blacks.

When he's at his best he elevates the All Blacks to a different level. His speed to the breakdown and then speed and accuracy of delivery once he's there, buys all those around him the milliseconds they need to operate effectively.

He's also shown that he can be more of a tactical director if he needs to be. His kicking game can be effective, punishing even, and in the first test against the Lions in 2017, it was Smith and not Beauden Barrett around whom the All Blacks built their attack.

He can be that player again which is why NZR will be celebrating Smith's retention.