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Why Aaron Smith had a rusty first half in his 100th All Blacks test

By Tom Vinicombe

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Aaron Smith became just the tenth player to crack 100 tests for the All Blacks in their 33-25 win over the Wallabies on Saturday night.

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The 32-year old debuted for New Zealand at Eden Park in 2012 and now, nine years later, Smith has notched up his century of matches on that same turf.

The man many consider to be the best halfback in the world didn’t lead the All Blacks out onto the park, however, instead running out second behind captain and former high school classmate Sam Whitelock.

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The first and final 20 minutes of the opening Bledisloe Cup test of 2021 weren’t pretty viewing for All Blacks fans.

Following the match, Smith revealed that was by his choice.

“I didn’t want to run out first because this team means more to me than doing that,” he said. “Sam’s the captain, he runs out first. I wanted it to be as normal as possible.

“I had a huge honour of leading the haka so I take that with a lot of pride.”

While nothing had been decided in the lead-up to the game, Smith passed on his request to Whitelock during the warm-up. Something else that hadn’t been planned for was the Auckland traffic, with Ian Foster revealing that the team bus was late to the ground, forcing the All Blacks to reduce the length of their pre-game preparation.

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Smith himself acknowledged that he perhaps wasn’t at his best in the opening half of the game – which could perhaps be accredited to the reduced warm-up.

“I was a bit shakey in that first 15, probably 30 [minutes],” he admitted. “I was very tight. I’m glad I was able to build into the game. My passing came back to me, finally. It was great. The jersey demands that you put it first always, and that’s what I wanted to do tonight.”

First five-eighth Richie Mo’unga had no qualms with the halfback’s delivery, however, and suggested that the All Blacks want Smith to be fizzing when he enters the test arena because that’s when he plays his natural game.

“He’s so experienced that he can adapt,” Mo’unga said. “I think there’s a problem if he’s not sort of coming in with that energy because of the man that he is.”

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While Smith said he was still “buzzing” after the match, the week before the game wasn’t exactly smooth-sailing, with the test centurion finding himself more stressed than usual in build-up.

“I was talking to Sam in the change room and he’s like, ‘Are you happy it’s done?’ And I was like, ‘Kind of, mate.’ It’s been a high-stress week in trying to keep the emotions in check and sort the family, the ticket, the transport.

“But the All Blacks have been outstanding. Our support staff have really made the week easy for me and my family and I’m very grateful for that.

“But most importantly, I’m just happy we won. That was an awesome test match to be a part of and it’s just a really nice feeling to win on Eden Park.

“It was a dream and a goal of mine and it’s a bit surreal that it’s happened. I can remember my first test here in 2012 and it’s just flown by. I was sitting in my room today, having a think around [how] it’s actually here. It was the sort of number I was trying not to think about for so long, sort of three or four years. I’m just really happy it’s here.”

Coach Ian Foster, who was an assistant to Steve Hansen when Smith was first called into the All Blacks, opened with a statement of congratulations for New Zealand’s first halfback centurion.

“A big congratulations to Nug on 100 tests,” he said. “Pretty special. It’s kind of cool, there’s another fella over there who’s played 100 as well [Sam Whitelock] but he’s the tenth guy to play 100 tests for the All Blacks.

“He’s been an amazing contributor to our team on and off the park and it was pretty great that he was actually able to celebrate with a victory on Eden Park. Just on behalf of us, Nug, [we want to] acknowledge a major achievement and may there be many more.”

Smith is contracted with New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2023, putting him in prime position to once again wear the No 9 jersey when the All Blacks travel to France for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

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Why Aaron Smith had a rusty first half in his 100th All Blacks test

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