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Smith ready for last shot with Highlanders

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Lynn McConnell     14 Feb 2019     Getty Images

There was no room for nostalgia knowing he was heading into his last campaign with the Highlanders. It was all about being in the best space possible ahead of Friday's game, he said.

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Smith said he was excited about getting back into playing action and like most of the All Blacks, while they were excused from the early part of pre-season they were all still working away on little things in their preparation so that when they did return they were able to get straight back into action.

"It's going to be a big challenge this Chiefs team, but it is one the team is really looking forward to," he said.

A lot of attention will be centred on first five-eighths Josh Ioane who has the task of filling the role left by Lima Sopoaga, but Smith is happy with Ioane's approach.

"Josh just backs himself, he sees a picture and goes with it and that's what we need from him on Friday night. Everyone's got a lot of excitement around the way he plays and the good thing is we've got three quality 10s so they're all challenging each other and they're all working together to make this team better," he said.

Smith said co-captain and No.8 Luke Whitelock was a great leader, who led by example and was a no-nonsense type of player.

Smith said he enjoyed captaincy. At first he had been unsure of how to approach the role but with experience it got a little easier and he enjoyed trying to influence the team by trying to play well initially and then helping others in the way they prepared and played.
Whitelock said it was a privilege to share the captaincy and if he was able to help the team as a consequence that would be great.

The key to working the co-captaincy arrangement was being aligned with the same messages and by using each other's strength to fill in any gaps that might appear.

Leadership was another challenge and it was a case of getting upskilled to see how he could help the team.

Whitelock said he had no regrets since moving south to the Highlanders in 2016. He had come down hoping for game time and had needed to change his game to fit in with then coach Jamie Joseph's requirements and that had been good for him.

"Defensively it was a big change. Initially Scott McLeod was really good with that and helping me and sort of making things really simple and try not to think about everything but try to do one thing really well and go from there," he said.

In a competition that was likely to be close and decided on one or two key moments or a particular game, the requirement for the Highlanders was finding consistency.

Whitelock also backed Ioane to do well at first five-eighths on the back of his Mitre 10 Cup season and being around the Highlanders last year. He was communicating well with the players around him and that was making it clear and simple for the players in front of him and that was good, he said.