There is an argument to be made that Aaron Smith is the best All Black of his time.
Just as there’s a similar argument to be made that he is the best All Blacks’ halfback of all-time.
Speed is the great strength of Smith’s game. Speed of thought, speed of movement and speed of pass. In an era where teams yearn to play at pace and catch defensive lines in disarray, Smith’s skills are a huge advantage to every team he plays in.
Why, then, would you ever replace that guy with TJ Perenara?
I greatly admire Perenara. I haven’t always, but you can’t deny the man’s work-ethic and combativeness. He might not be the most talented player in the world, but few try harder.
Really and truly, though, you are putting the All Blacks’ backs at a massive disadvantage every time Perenara takes the field. His strengths don’t appear to align with the team’s preferred method of play and – at the risk of sounding a halfwit here – surely it makes more sense to have a more Smith-like halfback on the park?
I get this whole idea of teams having finishers or closers and I won’t pretend Perenara hasn’t performed well in that role over the years. Equally, I’d contend Beauden Barrett might have had a better time of it had Brad Weber worn No.9 when the All Blacks met the Wallabies in Brisbane the other night.
Test match rugby is a good product when you’ve got a contest. And again – at the risk of sounding a halfwit – the previous week’s 43-5 victory in Sydney felt a hollow one. Australia were awful that night and beating them didn’t feel like a huge achievement.
The Wallabies’ 24-22 win at Suncorp Stadium exposed a few things about the All Blacks and, in the grand scheme of things, that’s beneficial.
Walkovers won’t win New Zealand the next Rugby World Cup. The players need to face challenges and failures if they’re to improve and the coaches are to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Ian Foster didn’t roll a great starting XV onto Suncorp Stadium and then didn’t appear to have great faith in those on the bench. Despite sapping humidity and a slightly superior foe, Foster persevered with players such as Perenara and people are entitled to be critical of that.
Let’s run through the team that took the park the other night. In the backs, Anton Lienert-Brown, Beauden Barrett and Perenara are proven test performers.
Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett and Codie Taylor are all test-match quality forwards. That’s eight out of 15, with Damian McKenzie the only bench player you’d mention in the same breath.
Are we actually as good as we like to think we are? Or was this just a poor test 23?
We as fans, and alleged pundits, don’t help. You’d think, for instance, that Akira Ioane produced one of the all-time great 80-minute performances, judging by some of the praise he’s received.
The bar has slipped absurdly low if we’re commending cameos like that.
As good as it was to see a contest on Saturday, so it was to have some consistency. Referee Nic Berry was right to send Ofa Tuungafasi and Lachie Swinton off, just as he was to sinbin Marika Koroibete and Scott Barrett.
If that’s World Rugby’s standard and foul play or high tackles are going to be judged in that fashion, then happy days. Cue the justified howls of outrage, though, when Owen Farrell again escapes punishment for similar.
There was some absolute loads of rubbish talked about intent on Saturday night. And whether, as they love to say in rugby league, high tackles are a bloke’s “go’’ or not.
Again, if that’s World Rugby’s standard and referees are going to stick to it, then that’s a great outcome for the game. We can’t allow tacklers to attack the head of ball runners, no matter whether they intended to or not.
But, hey, how good is a loss? How much are you looking forward to New Zealand against Australia being a rivalry again? How keen are you to see tests against South Africa and England and France on the schedule again?
Sport is better for uncertainty and intrigue and talking points and Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium provided us with plenty. Long may that continue.
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