Aaron Smith has opened up about his close relationship with former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
The All Blacks halfback, who has had his fair share of ups and downs during his career, has credited Hansen with helping him "become a man".
In a wide-ranging interview with the Rugby Bricks podcast, Smith revealed a sensitive side of his former coach that the outside world may not get to witness.
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"Steve Hansen was massive the whole time – he rang me once a week, even when I wasn't in camp, to check on me, he was brilliant," Smith said.
"After the semifinal and the third place game I went and hugged him and said 'thank you for helping me become a man' – him and Bert (All Blacks mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka) really got me to where I am now."
The 31-year-old said Hansen played a big part in helping him through an "ugly circle" that culminated in his so-called "toilet tryst" in 2016.
"He's got a big heart – I love Steve and him believing in me and sticking by me was massive, because they could have just brushed their hands with me and say 'you'll never play again', but he kinda went the other way with it and he supported me no matter what.
"He didn't like what I did, but he said 'if you change, I can help', and he did. I always tried to prove from 2017 on that I'm going to prove that I deserve to be an All Black."
Smith also said Hansen's trust in him as a player pushed him to perform at his best for the All Blacks.
"I get emotional talking about Steve because he's got 10 other halfbacks who could have played for the All Blacks but he stuck with me, and I wanted to try and repay the favour – I'll do whatever I can for you, mate.
"That's the thing people don't see with Steve, behind closed doors there's a lot of love, there's a lot of empathy – he's got nothing but love for you, but he just shows it differently."