29 Aaron Smith [2012-] CAPS 62

NZ Rugby World - - Brand Standing -

For a long pe­riod in the pro­fes­sional game, the All Blacks – New Zealand Su­per Rugby teams as well – weren’t in­ter­ested in pick­ing small, pass­ing half­backs.

There was a feel­ing they were yes­ter­day’s player – too small to e ec­tively de­fend around the fringes of the ruck and not able to act as a fourth loose for­ward.

Then in 2012 two things hap­pened: Steve Hansen was made coach of the All Blacks and High­landers coach Jamie Joseph was pre­pared to take a punt on Aaron Smith.

It was a big call be­cause Smith didn’t fit the mould of modern think­ing. He is 1.71m and barely 80kg. Smith is small.

But Smith is supremely gifted and he can pass. Re­ally pass. And he can get around the park and he can step and kick.

Joseph didn’t care that Smith was small and he built an at­tack­ing game­plan that was all about fast ruck ball and Smith us­ing his speed of move­ment and speed of pass to up the tempo.

By the end of the 2012 Su­per Rugby sea­son, it was im­pos­si­ble not to no­tice the con­tri­bu­tion of Smith. Im­pos­si­ble not to see how well he passed and how much op­por­tu­nity he pro­vided the High­landers by do­ing so.

As he said “If you’re not go­ing to be the big­gest player you must have a point of di er­ence. [My fa­ther] al­ways said half­backs have to be able to pass. That was the thing he re­ally drilled into me. That was the main thing that stuck with me when I was younger and all the times I prac­tised.

“For me it was about us­ing what I had. Be­ing smaller and leaner I could be faster and fit­ter. I could al­ways back my pass to be the most con­sis­tent thing in my game.”

Hansen knew straight away that he wanted Smith as his first choice half­back. He could see that the risks of play­ing such a small half­back were far less than the re­wards.

Smith gives the All Blacks the same ad­van­tages as he does the High­landers, and the lit­tle man has be­come an in­te­gral part of the All Blacks ma­chin­ery.

With Smith in the No 9 jer­sey, the All Blacks are look­ing to play at pace. They tend to push the ball wide early be­cause Smith al­lows them to do that.

He buys play­ers time and space by be­ing so sharp and ac­cu­rate in what he does. And it is the pace and width of the All Blacks’ at­tack that has en­abled them to win so many tests since 2012. It is the in­flu­ence of Smith that has been crit­i­cal in al­low­ing that pat­tern to form.

“He’s de­vel­oped into a very spe­cial half­back and be­come a very im­por­tant part of our team,” says Hansen. “His style of game suits what we are try­ing to do. He’s worked re­ally hard at un­der­stand­ing the game and help­ing to drive that.

“When he’s calm, con­trolled and clear he’s one of, if not the, best half­backs in the world. It’s nice to see him grow into the player he has.”

Not only has Smith had a huge in­flu­ence on the speed and width which the All Blacks can play, he’s also paved the way for other small half­backs to be picked.

Since he proved his worth on the big­gest stage, a num­ber of smaller half­backs have en­tered the pro­fes­sional fray. Coaches are more will­ing at all lev­els to em­brace pass­ing half­backs and not worry so much about their abil­ity to knock over for­wards or punch holes around the fringes.

Smith has changed the think­ing from big is best to se­lec­tors get­ting back to eval­u­at­ing the core role of the half­back and re­al­is­ing that it is pass­ing the ball.


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