Smithy bows out with a smile
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.’’
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.