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Aaron Smith returns to action following six-week match-less spell

By Alex McLeod

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All Blacks star Aaron Smith has successfully returned to action at provincial level following a six-week sideline spell.

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Up until Saturday, the All Blacks centurion hadn’t played any rugby since New Zealand’s 57-22 Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship thumping of the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland on August 14.

Since then, Smith opted against travelling with the All Blacks to Australia for the remainder of their Rugby Championship campaign as he decided to stay in New Zealand ahead of the imminent arrival of his second child.

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Although Smith’s second child isn’t due until November, uncertainty over the availability of MIQ spots reigned supreme in his decision to stay put, meaning he is unlikely to feature for the All Blacks again this year.

Instead, the 32-year-old has turned his attention to Manawatu and the NPC as he turned out for the Turbos in their 31-19 win over Northland in Palmerston North on Saturday.

Smith’s 46th appearance for the province was a long time coming after the NPC was put on hold for four weeks after New Zealand entered a nationwide lockdown following a community outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant just three days after the All Blacks’ resounding win over the Wallabies.

That delayed Smith’s return to the green-and-white jersey, but the 101-test veteran resumed his provincial career with a victory over the Taniwha that keeps Manawatu in second place on the NPC Championship standings.

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Smith played 74 minutes of the contest, and while his outing was marred by a few uncharacteristic handling errors, the match is likely to act as a fine way to alleviate the rustiness that came with his prolonged stint without action.

Despite his moments of sloppiness, Smith was an instrumental figure for Manawatu as he still managed to deliver some crisp passes, one of which proved to be key in Manu Samoa wing Ed Fidow’s 21st minute try.

Smith’s leadership and authoritative presence was also evident throughout the match as the hosts ran in three tries to keep Northland winless this season.

The visitors also crossed the chalk for three tries of their own, but the goal-kicking of Smith’s halves partner and one-test All Blacks first-five Brett Cameron was enough to guide Manawatu to victory as he contributed 16 points of his own off the tee.

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Smith and Cameron weren’t the only All Blacks in action for the Turbos, as former All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder made his first appearance of the NPC campaign off the bench midway through the second half.

Provided Taranaki don’t earn any competition points against Bay of Plenty on Sunday, the result at Central Energy Trust Arena means Manawatu will head into next week’s clash against Otago four points astray from the Championship leaders.

Smith is expected to feature in that match next Saturday as he continues to work his way towards 50 caps for Manawatu.

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Aaron Smith returns to action following six-week match-less spell

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