Smith had cheek and a ton of talent
The man who Aaron Smith controversially ousted as the Highlanders No 9 says, despite the rivalry, he was aware from day one Smith had something special about him.
Smith will play his 100th Super Rugby game for the Highlanders tonight when they play the Melbourne Rebels in Dunedin.
For the first two years of Smith’s tenure at the Highlanders in 2011 and 2012, he butted heads with then-All Black halfback Jimmy Cowan.
From the outset, Smith made it clear he wanted Cowan’s No 9 jersey.
It included a cheeky suggestion to Cowan’s face in Pretoria following a Highlanders win over the Bulls that he felt he should be starting ahead of Cowan.
It was a bold move considering earlier that day Smith had just made his Super Rugby debut as a substitute and Cowan was an incumbent All Black at the time.
Cowan remained as the regular starter throughout the 2011 season, before the transition happened in 2012. Cowan started the first game of that campaign, before Smith took the reins for the majority of the remainder of the season.
The other twist that season was Cowan was set to bring up a fairytale milestone by playing his 100th Super Rugby game at his home ground at Rugby Park in Invercargill.
A marketing push had already started, but just a couple of weeks earlier coach Jamie Joseph opted to not use Cowan at all from the bench and instead the game in Invercargill turned out to be his 99th cap.
Instead Cowan brought up game No 100 a week later when he came off the bench against the Stormers in Dunedin.
‘‘Looking back at it, you want to be playing don’t you? I was no different,’’ Cowan said.
‘‘I had Aaron Smith coming at me very very quickly, and he was playing very good rugby.
‘‘It was a matter of time wasn’t it? He had the youth, he had the energy, and I was coming to the end of my time playing in New Zealand.
‘‘I’ve got a lot of time for Aaron Smith. It just shows you what he has done in the Highlanders jersey.
‘‘He’s a remarkable guy and I’m a huge fan of his.’’
Aaron Smith will bring up his 100th game for the Highlanders in Dunedin tonight after succeeding Jimmy Cowan, right, as the top halfback at the franchise in 2012.