Smithy bows out with a smile

Marlborough Express - - SPORT - MARC HINTON

The ad­min­is­ter of de­fence was a happy man on Satur­day night. That wasn’t quite a tear in the eye of the great Wayne Smith, but it wasn’t far from it.

The fi­nal lap of the track has be­gun for the pop­u­lar and le­gendary All Blacks as­sis­tant coach, and de­fence guru, with the record­break­ing 57-0 dis­man­tling of the Spring­boks in Al­bany Smith’s last test on home soil.

He steps aside af­ter the Bris­bane Bledis­loe and hands his de­fence clip­board over to Scott McLeod, who will in­herit a pretty steady ship if Satur­day night’s Spring­boks shutout is any­thing to go by. It was the first time the All Blacks had blanked the South Africans since 2008’s 19-0 vic­tory in Cape Town, and just the fifth oc­ca­sion ever.

‘‘It was pretty spe­cial,’’ said a clearly ec­static Smith late on Satur­day night. ‘‘I think we knew there was go­ing to be a whole­hearted per­for­mance, that there was go­ing to be some­thing pretty good. We were con­fi­dent of that.

‘‘But that was spe­cial. It was bru­tal on de­fence, and it was bru­tal on at­tack, and that’s what you’re look­ing for. And I don’t think I’ve seen a bet­ter for­ward dis­play in tak­ing apart a team than that.’’

It was typ­i­cal Smith, de­flect­ing from his team’s de­fen­sive master­class to praise an­other as­pect of the per­for­mance. But he was adamant the ef­fort from his big men up front had been cru­cial.

‘‘It’s sort of a dream per­for­mance to fin­ish on. All-round too. That’s the best for­ward dis­play I’ve seen for ages, and the work Crono (Mike Cron) and Luke Ro­mano did on the li­ne­out was out­stand­ing. He (Ro­mano) is a very in­no­va­tive man, and is go­ing to be a good coach one day.

‘‘The at­ti­tude was re­ally good. You can tell early in the week what the ten­sion is like, and what the edge is like, and you need a bit of edge to have a per­for­mance like that. I could tell early on this was go­ing to be a pretty big per­for­mance.’’

But there was no doubt that Smith was per­haps the only per­son at the sta­dium more rapt with the zero on the score­board, than the 57.

‘‘It’s been a while com­ing this year,’’ he re­sponded. ‘‘We haven’t been quite as good this year. If you’re steal­ing their li­ne­out ball it makes de­fence a wee bit eas­ier – you don’t ac­tu­ally have to tackle.

‘‘We’ve wanted to step up the de­fence for a while, wanted to be more phys­i­cal, and tonight was the test be­cause the Spring­boks had been play­ing well. There was a great at­ti­tude all week, and we saw that in the line-speed and the col­li­sions.’’

But the job, of course, is not done. There is still the Ar­genti­naSouth Africa Rugby Cham­pi­onship road trip to come. One more tro­phy to an­nex. Then Bris­bane. Then a tour (that Smith will watch from his arm­chair). In the All Blacks bet­ter never stops.

‘‘The chal­lenge for us now is back­ing up ... It’s al­ways dif­fi­cult. Ted (Graham Henry) used to say three big per­for­mances in a row are im­pos­si­ble. We’re al­ways try­ing to prove that wrong. But he’s pretty much on the but­ton. It’s been tough through his­tory to repli­cate great per­for­mances.’’

And those emo­tions? Had it home that this was the last time he will rep­re­sent the All Blacks in New Zealand?

‘‘Yeah it has,’’ he said with a broad grin. ‘‘I was just hav­ing a beer in the chang­ing-rooms with the boys. The Boks came in, as they al­ways do. It’s sur­real to think it’s the last one. But the time is right. I’ve made a de­ci­sion and I’m just re­ally en­joy­ing it.’’ Right now, what’s not to en­joy? Mean­while, Steve Hansen has hinted at un­leash­ing dual squads for the fi­nal two Rugby Cham­pi­onship tests on the road, and has promised to re­veal all to­day once he has in­formed his play­ers of the mas­ter plan.

On the back of their record­break­ing 57-0 vic­tory over the Spring­bok’s at Al­bany’s QBE Sta­dium on Satur­day night, Hansen’s All Blacks all but have an­other Rugby Cham­pi­onship ti­tle sewn up. They are eight points clear of the Boks and would need to lose both matches to open the door for the sec­ond-placed South Africans to catch them.On what we ev­i­denced on Satur­day night, there might be more chance of Jemele Hill get­ting a Christ­mas card from Don­ald Trump.

Which leaves the loom­ing away tests against the Pu­mas in Buenos Aires (Sept 30) and Spring­boks in Cape Town (Oc­to­ber 7). Hansen has al­ready talked about the need to man­age work­loads and main­tain fresh­ness in as many of his play­ers as pos­si­ble, with still the Bris­bane Bledis­loe and then a five­match Novem­ber tour north to fol­low.

"I’m go­ing to put out a re­lease to­mor­row,’’ Hansen said. ‘‘I haven’t spo­ken to the play­ers about it yet. They know 28 will be go­ing to both venues but they don’t know who. There’s no point me telling you guys first.’’

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

All Blacks for­ward Codie Tay­lor cel­e­brates with team­mates af­ter scor­ing a try dur­ing the Rugby Cham­pi­onship match against the Spring­boks at QBE Sta­dium in Al­bany on Satur­day night.

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