Aaron Smith and Dan Carter named greatest All Blacks No 9 and 10
Aaron Smith and Dan Carter have been named as the greatest All Blacks halfback and first-five of all-time by a panel of rugby experts and the Kiwi public.
As part of Sky Sport’s quest to find New Zealand’s Greatest XV, a panel of leading journalists and broadcasters – Grant Nisbett, Ken Laban, Rikki Swannell and Phil Gifford – were last week asked by The Breakdown who they thought were the country’s best-ever halfback and first-five.
The panel were unanimous in their verdict that Smith, the current All Blacks No 9, and Carter, the two-time World Cup-winning No 10, were New Zealand’s greatest halves pairing.
Their verdict was supported by the Kiwi public, who voted Smith (77 percent of the public vote) and Carter (89 percent) as the best-ever All Blacks in their respective positions on social media.
Smith, the 101-test veteran who was part of the 2015 World Cup-winning All Blacks squad, drew praise from various All Blacks figures for his all-round ability, but particularly his speed and world-class passing.
“You give me one part of his game that isn’t up there as a great All Black,” former All Blacks head coach Laurie Mains told Sky Sport.
“He’s got all of the skills and all of the halfback traits – passes brilliantly, passes quickly, communicates with his forwards well, takes gaps when it’s on, knows when to pass, how to kick, where to kick.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a halfback that is more complete in his game than Aaron Smith is.”
Ex-All Blacks boss Sir Steven Hansen handed Smith his test debut during his first season as head coach of New Zealand in 2012, but revealed there were some doubts over the 32-year-old’s size.
However, despite his 1.71m and 83kg stature, Smith quickly repaid the faith Hansen and his fellow All Blacks selectors had in him.
“When we first picked Aaron, it was after a lot of discussions. He’s not a very big man, but what we loved about him is his speed. He could get to the ball and then clear it,” Hansen said.
“If you ask me if he’s a great All Black, he is. There’s no doubt about that.”
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Smith’s former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who was voted into New Zealand’s Greatest XV as the composite team’s openside flanker, echoed Hansen’s and Mains’ sentiments.
“His ability to clear the ball quickly allowed guys like Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, to have time and space to show what they could do,” McCaw told Sky Sport.
“I think he kind of revolutionised that just by how quick he could get to the breakdown and get rid of it.”
As for Carter, McCaw – who played alongside the former 112-test All Black for almost a decade-and-a-half – added that the composure of the three-time World Rugby Player of the Year throughout his career allowed him to flourish as a playmaker.
“The great players have time and make things look easy when they’re not. Why does someone look like they have time? It’s because they’re calm under pressure and they execute things spot on,” McCaw said.
“They don’t miss those opportunities, and that’s something he did consistently throughout his career.”
Former All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu, another long-time teammate of Carter’s, shared McCaw’s opinion that the 39-year-old always looked in control of the game whenever he played.
“It always looked like Dan had time on his hands. It never looked like he was rushed or under pressure and you could just see it on his face and the way he moved,” Mealamu told Sky Sport.
“He was someone that just looked like time stood still for him when he could move the game when he wanted to. He was definitely the conductor. He had everyone singing at the speed the he wanted to play.”
Smith, meanwhile, said he was in awe that he was Carter’s teammate and halves partner throughout the latter stages of the first-five’s glittering test career.
“Dan Carter’s the man. He’s just a lad, a good Kiwi lad, humble, funny, has a good time, and then when you see him switch into game mode or training mode, he was so focused and driven on what he wanted.
“His practices, watching his skill sessions, watching him kick goals, kick drop punts, drop offs, he never looked like he shanked a kick. I passed him heaps of balls to kick and it just like that was exactly where he wanted to put it.
“He always practiced different kicks, right foot, left foot, and he just oozed confidence, but not arrogance. I still pinch myself thinking I got to throw him some passes.”
All Blacks Greatest XV
1. Tony Woodcock (118 tests from 2002-2015)
2. Sean Fitzpatrick (92 tests from 1986-1997)
3. Ken Gray (24 tests from 1963-1969)
4. Colin Meads (55 tests from 1957-1971)
5. Brodie Retallick (85 tests from 2012-present)
6. Michael Jones (56 tests from 1986-1998)
7. Richie McCaw (148 tests from 2001-2015)
8. Zinzan Brooke (58 tests from 1987 to 1997)
9. Aaron Smith (101 tests from 2012-present)
10. Dan Carter (112 tests from 2003-2015)
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