Highlanders and All Blacks star halfback Aaron Smith is backing his teammate and co-captain Ben Smith to make a speedy recovery from the hamstring injury he sustained against the Chiefs on Saturday night.
Smith, the 32-year-old fullback, may have played his last game for the franchise of which he debuted for in 2009 after straining his hamstring after falling awkwardly in the tackle of Chiefs loose forward Luke Jacobson during the two side’s 31-all draw at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The injury is expected to rule him out for between six to eight weeks, meaning he might not feature for the side again this year should the Highlanders fail to qualify for the play-offs in six weeks’ time.
However, Aaron Smith is providing his long-time Super Rugby and international teammate with as much support as possible, and believes the 76-test veteran could come back sooner than expected, in similar fashion to how he returned to action two weeks ahead of schedule after straining his ankle against the Blues in March.
“I went and watched Game of Thrones with him last night and made sure I got around him,” Smith told RugbyPass in Dunedin on Tuesday.
“He’s a good mate of mine and I just went and checked on him and he seems good, he was icing his leg and he’s already in that mindset that he’s going to be back quicker than six to eight [weeks], so positive for him.
“These things, you’ve just got to look at them in a positive light. It’s a big blow for us, but, as I said, that’s rugby, and we [have a] ‘next man up’ kind of mindset, but we’ll still need Bender’s influence off the field as well.”
Aaron Smith played an integral role in the opening hour of the Highlanders’ performance on Saturday, assisting three tries with his rapid yet accurate passing game before being pulled from the field around the hour mark.
That performance followed another noteworthy outing a week beforehand against the Sunwolves in Tokyo, his second match and first start since returning from injury, but the 30-year-old said he’s still building towards his peak form.
“I’m getting there. The first start in Tokyo was great, it’s just the game time and being able to be back to that full match fitness – it’s coming,” he said.
“I’m working really hard on and off the field and trying to get my body back, but my leg’s responding really well to training at the moment.
“I’m pretty much 100 [percent], which is great, but the ankle’s holding up good.”
Both he and the rest of the Highlanders will hope that he is at 100 percent fitness as the southerners prepare to host the Jaguares this Saturday on the first leg of their four-match Australasian tour.
The Argentines are renowned for their traditionally forward-orientated style of play, but the Highlanders could look to use Smith’s lethal passing game to run them off the park, especially if he continues his rich vein of form.
“Yeah, hopefully,” he said with a laugh when asked if his passing game would again be used as a weapon to dismantle the Jaguares.
“I think they only arrived today. We know how hard it is to travel to Argentina and play, and how much the flight takes the juice out of you, so they’re coming here, we’re the first game of their tour, and we’re pretty desperate to put last week’s result [behind us] and make sure this week’s a better one for us.
“I think we’re pretty determined and hungry to put out a performance that our people deserve this week.
“My role in this team is to play at speed and fire the ball out and there’s no excuses here to throw any bricks with dry ball, so hopefully I can do my job and do it really well.”
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