NZ Rugby World
AARON SMITH HAS STILL GOT IT
There were individuals in great form across all five teams in Super
Rugby Aotearoa. But arguably none had a similar influence to Aaron Smith who was in the form of his career for the Highlanders.
And he's had some purple patches of form before. This was different, though. Smith played like he wanted to lead his team in everything he did.
They ran nearly every attacking play off him and mixed things up more than they previously have.
In years gone by, Smith has been asked to get his hands on the ball and whip it away. It has made sense. He's able to get to so many rucks and his passing is so good and so accurate, that everything has tended to go through No 10 on attack.
This year, however, it was a little different – perhaps because Tony Brown was back as assistant coach and maybe he feared that the Highlanders were becoming a little predictable.
So Smith quite often picked the ball up and ran a few lateral steps to entice the defence to him. He would bring them up and then release to create space for others around the edge of the ruck.
Quite frequently, and particularly in their last game against the Hurricanes, the Highlanders found holes in the middle of the field, that had been made by Smith holding and delaying his pass.
His performances were of such quality that All Blacks coach Ian Foster felt moved to single him out when he announced the inter-Island teams.
Foster said: “Aaron Smith, is someone who's been around a long, long time, playing in his 150th game, to see what the game meant for him I thought was quite inspirational with the energy he put into it.”