Aaron Smith 'rewound the clock' in historic Cardiff performance
Aaron Smith became the most capped All Blacks back of all time over the weekend in Wales, with his 113th cap pushing him beyond the tiebreaker and ahead of his former halves partner Dan Carter.
The record is a wildly impressive one to hold but it was his performance in Cardiff that had him earning pundits’ praise, a vintage display from the 33-year-old produced two tries in addition to precision kicking and his typically snappy passing.
An element of Smith’s game that fans haven’t been treated to so much of lately is his darting runs around the ruck, a former X-factor skillset that found a resurgence under the roof of Principality Stadium.
One particular highlight play saw the halfback glide through a gap between three Welsh forwards and step young speedster Louis Rees-Zammit to cross the chalk and extend The All Balcks’ lead to 13 just after the break.
“He was awesome,” 100-cap ex-All Black Mils Muliaina said of Smith’s performance on Sky’s The Breakdown.
“The kicking game from Aaron Smith right from the get-go was on point, the chasers – he got it right, the execution.
“But also his leadership, the most capped All Black back in history, that was probably evident here, the way he scored that try, there was penalty advantage but he took his opportunity.
“He almost rewound the clock in terms of how he played.”
While Smith still holds favour as New Zealand’s premier halfback, the gap has been closing as more electric threats like Folau Fakatava keep Super Rugby defences on their toes around the ruck in addition to strong passing games.
Ian Foster’s insistence of the All Blacks being a “rebuilding team” saw some questions emerge from the shadows around Smith’s starting role in the team, although game management and consistency of execution have Smith still second to none in Foster’s eyes and the Welsh Test was certainly reward for the continued faith the Kiwi coach has shown in his veteran No 9.
“I feel like he went back to the way he runs around the ruck,” Ex-Black Fern Chelsea Semple added.
“He has little darts and holds those first two defenders allowing us to have more one on ones with players rather than just passing straight from the baseline.
“I think we saw him back to his best last night, as well as his running game, he was running like it was his first cap and he was young, he looked quick so having him playing at his best obviously helps the All Blacks.”
Smith was interviewed by teammate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck after the game and was humble in receiving congratulations for his historic night, deflecting the conversation to discuss the team’s overall performance.
“It was a special night,” Smith said.
“This is somewhere that’s very special to play, I’ve always loved playing here, you can’t beat many atmospheres like that.
“Just to try and play semi-well was nice, for us as a group there was a lot of anger and disappointment about how we went in Japan, all week there was a lot of edge and it was a good feeling.
“We were letting the Welsh in the game through our own errors, probably because we wanted it but as a group, we’ve got to be pretty happy.”
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