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‘Just want to win’: Aaron Smith downplays milestone ahead of must-win clash

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith will run out onto Forsyth Barr Stadium for the last time tonight in Highlanders colours when they take on the Queensland Reds.

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When his playing days are over, Smith will be revered as probably the greatest player in Highlanders history.

Even at Test level, Smith’s international CV is nothing short of masterful – and will see him discussed alongside the likes of Richie McCaw, Colin Meades and Dan Carter as an All Blacks legend.

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While the end is in sight for Aaron Smith in Aotearoa, there are still some momentous milestones that will be both celebrated and enjoyed by the New Zealand Rugby public.

Having played more than 180 appearances for the Highlanders – which has seen him become the most-capped player in franchise history – Smith will play his final home game in round 14.

The significance of the occasion adds to an already unmissable trans-Tasman derby between two teams eager to secure finals football.

Currently sitting in ninth-place on the Super Rugby Pacific standings, the Highlanders could mathematically be eliminated from the playoffs this weekend.

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Or, they can jump into the top eight.

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Ahead of his final home game in Highlanders colours, Smith said that all he wants is to win on Friday night.

“It’s been great to look back (and) think back but yeah as a footy player you’ve got keep your head locked in for what’s to come,” Smith told SENZ’s The Run Home.

“We’ve got the Reds coming and we need to win, so I’m really excited about that challenge.

“I’ve got a heap of family and friends coming down, (I) love pressure and it’s all riding on this game for us which is awesome.

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“We’ve got a chance this week to try and get a win and get in the playoffs and try and go up to Hamilton and stir it up but we’ve got to win first and that’s all we’re thinking about.

“With all the hoopla around my last game, I just want to win on Friday night.”

Smith would have to be considered a certainty for the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup squad later this year.

While there are some world-class halfbacks in New Zealand, including a few emerging stars, there are simply none better than Aaron Smith.

Smith has been a mainstay of the All Blacks for a number of years now – which included a start in the semi-final loss to England in 2019.

The halfback hasn’t forgotten that fateful day in Yokohama. In fact, the 34-year-old has still got “bad blood” from that clash – and is eager to make amends in France.

“The goals are going good so far this year,” he added.

“Having targets and then making the playoffs is definitely the one and then in the black jersey it’s just (to) make the team in a month’s time or whenever it’s named.

“The dream from when we lost to England (in the 2019 semi-final) and when we got home I set that goal, ‘I want to go to three World Cups,’ so I want to be there first.

“That would be pretty special and I just want to give myself the best chance to do that and that’s why definitely it started really early.

“That carrot at the end of the year’s so big and it just makes it so much fun to try and play hard and get your body fit and get ready for it.

“I’ve been to two and won one, lost one and (I’ve) still go that bad blood from 2019 but that was our fault and I’d love nothing more than a crack at a World Cup in France and I’d love to be at that game one versus France in Paris.

“That’s the goal, is to be there and what happens at the World Cup will happen, but I’d just like to make that first squad first.”

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