'It's just going to add to the end of my career': Smith's lucky break
Today the All Blacks confirmed that halfback Aaron Smith won’t join the side for the remainder of the Rugby Championship in Australia. With his second child due mid-November, there’s also a very real chance the test centurion won’t make the trip to Europe at the end of October.
The All Blacks’ loss is Manawatu’s gain, however, with the NPC side set to enjoy the wisdom and skill of the 32-year-old for the foreseeable future.
It’s not all bad news for the All Blacks either. Smith’s absence will give TJ Perenara and Brad Weber rare opportunities in the starting halfback jersey, which will put the side in good stead for the next Rugby World Cup.
Smith is also confident that remaining in New Zealand will be beneficial for this long-term performance and ensure he’s in top shape come the showpiece tournament in 2023.
“It’s a blessing in disguise, the time off with my body – and the mental break,” he said on Wednesday.
“The training and that’s not always the hard one. I’m a halfback so the knocks aren’t exactly the same as a forward, the loose forwards and the locks. My role is always around my body and my running metres. I look after myself well during the year but not having those test rugby knocks and back-to-back games away and weeks, it’s just going to add to the end of my career hopefully.”
Smith knew from the early stages of the year that he wasn’t likely to make the northern tour but had expected to be available for the Rugby Championship. When Covid resurfaced in New Zealand, however, and the competition was shifted primarily to Australia, that no longer became possible.
“Obviously at the start of the year, we were hoping to play the Rugby Championship in New Zealand and see out my year that way,” Smith said, “and I was willing to stay home from the end of year tour to be home with my baby and be there for the birth.
“But obviously, with Covid hitting and the boys going to Australia and the unknown about being able to come back in time for the birth, I had to make a decision – and it was a pretty simple decision, to be honest. I just couldn’t get on the plane not knowing when I could come home and if I’d got on the plane, I wouldn’t be home until December. My son would have been a month and a bit old and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that time.”
The All Blacks coaches were also in full support of Smith’s decision – though Ian Foster did lament how often his players found themselves expecting newborns during the All Blacks season.
With Aaron Smith unavailable for the remainder of the Rugby Championship – and perhaps beyond – the coming months present a huge opportunity for TJ Perenara and Brad Weber. #AllBlacks
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) September 14, 2021
“I’m very thankful for Fozzy,” Smith said. “I gave him a call pretty early in the year around how I could be out for the end of year tour and that was sort of the plan the whole time.
“I’m just grateful he didn’t really pressure me [throughout] the whole experience. He was really open to it. He’s dropped a few jokes that ‘You boys always babies in the All Blacks calendar, never in Super Rugby.'”
Smith joked that if he and wife Teagan have a third child, they’d plan the arrival time more carefully.
Fellow All Blacks Richie Mo’unga and Sam Whitelock also missed the initial trip over to Australia due to impending newborns. Mo’unga is now set to arrive in Queensland in time for the final weekend of the Rugby Championship while Whitelock will join the squad for their scheduled match against the USA Eagles in Washington before the team moves to Europe, where they’ll take on Wales, Ireland, Italy and France.
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