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‘He called it’: Aaron Smith predicted dream end to final Highlanders home game

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

Aaron Smith really can do it all. The legendary halfback is one of the greatest Highlanders of all time, but Smiths’ knowledge, skill and understanding of the sport goes beyond the field of play.


Having played 184 matches for the Highlanders and counting, Smith will go down in history as potentially the Dunedin-based franchises’ best-ever player.

Smith played a key role in the Highlanders’ maiden Super Rugby title in 2015, and will leave a long-lasting legacy at the club when his playing days are over.

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Beyond that, Smith is also widely regarded as probably the greatest halfback to have ever donned the coveted All Blacks jersey – if not the best No. 9 that the world has ever seen.

Smith is that good.

But call him Nostradamus, because the man known as ‘Nugget’ can officially see things on the rugby field before they happen.

Playing in his final Highlanders home game at Forsyth Barr Stadium last weekend against the Queensland Reds, Smith watched on from the sidelines as the visitors took a late lead.

The Reds were up 28-30 with five minutes to play after a Tom Lynagh penalty goal, and appeared set to win their first match in Dunedin since 2013 – and end the Highlanders’ season.


But Folau Fakatava refused to throw in the towel.

The replacement halfback raced through a gap between Mac Grealy and Jock Campbell down the short side, and scored the match-winning try with 28 seconds to play.


Highlanders playmaker Mitch Hunt later revealed that Smith had told one of his teammates that Fakatava was “going to catch someone slacking off” before it happened.

“It’s pretty awesome and he’s been that guy a number of times over the last few years,” Hunt told RugbyPass.

“Whether he’s been starting or coming off the bench late, he’s someone that just seems to keep finding those gaps or picking on guys that are just napping a little bit.

“He’s one to look out for this weekend too with that type of style.

“I think Aaron, once he went off and he was on the bench, he must have leaned over to one of the boys and said, ‘Folau’s going to catch someone slacking off here’ and almost called it a few minutes before.”

With the match in balance, Smith was replaced by Fakatava in the 67th minute. At that stage, the Highlanders were trailing by six points.

The All Black had done all he could, and had been replaced by his heir apparent in front of a vibrant Dunedin crowd.

“Pretty cool that we’ve got Aaron to start a game and Folau to come and finish. I’d say probably Aaron owes him the beer I reckon,” Hunt added.

“I think he said he called it just before it happened, that Folau was gonna catch someone slacking there and that’s exactly what he did.

“That’s a pretty cool moment as well.”

This year’s Super Rugby Pacific campaign hadn’t quite gone to plan for the Highlanders, but they’re still in “control of our own destiny” heading into the final round of the regular season.


Currently sitting in eighth place on the ladder, a win a round 15 over New Zealand rivals the Blues would book their place in the next stage.

But a loss could eliminate the Highlanders – other results would have to go their way, with another three teams vying for that final spot in the playoffs.

“The positive heading into this week has probably been our last two weeks. With the nature of our season and where we’ve sort of left ourselves, the last won weeks were really… treated as playoff games.

“We’ve sort of been in a little bit of that mindset for the last couple of weeks.

“The way our last two games finished, traditionally we may have lost tight games like that as the Landers over the last few years.

“I think we take some great confidence out of knowing that in those tight games, the last few weeks we’ve been able to finish. That’s been great, we’ve treated them like finals.

“If we win we go through, if we lose there’s still a chance but then it relies on everyone else.

“We want to take control of our own destiny and we’re going up there to win, as tough as it may be heading up to Auckland.”

The match between the Highlanders and Blues is set to get underway at 7.05pm NZST at Auckland’s Eden Park on Friday.


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