For a player world-renowned for his quick, crisp distribution of the ball, Aaron Smith may have caught onlookers by surprise when he scored the Highlanders’ match-winning try against the Chiefs on Friday night.
The 30-year-old came off the bench to replace Kayne Hammington early in the second half, and had a profound impact on the outcome of the match – as did his fellow All Black replacements Dillon Hunt and Shannon Frizell – which culminated in a match-winning try by the posts in the 76th minute.
Four points down and hot on attack, Smith had arrived at a ruck close to the Chiefs’ tryline and assessed his options before swinging a big dummy to the left and stepping through the defensive efforts of Jesse Parete and Michael Allardice to dot down.
Many would have expected Smith to spread the ball wide with a trademark rapid flat ball to put his teammates on the front foot going forward, but his ability to fool the opposition defence with a dummy not only surprised the Chiefs, but also his Highlanders teammates.
The move was no fluke, though, with Smith crediting his teenage teammate for helping him work on the move throughout pre-season training.
“Some of the boys are like ‘where’d that come from’,” the 82-test halfback told Fairfax.
“We’ve got a young halfback down in the Highlanders at the moment and he’s been doing it all pre-season with me around. He’s got me a couple of times. He’s been really pushing me around that and making me look at different parts of my game.
“So that one goes to Folau Fakatava, he’s the man. He’s been dummying everyone at camp, and it just sort of happened.”
Smith’s praise of 19-year-old halfback Fakatava is indicative of the talent that the former Hastings Boys’ High School star possesses.
The Hawke’s Bay youngster is yet to make his Super Rugby debut, but he looks to be a long-term investment for the Highlanders once Smith departs, which he widely expected to do following this year’s World Cup.
Fakatava could make his debut when the Highlanders host the Reds in Dunedin next weekend, while Smith will be hoping to make his first starting appearance of the year after being benched behind second-string halfback Hammington.
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