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Smith becomes key figure

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Sportal.co.nz     23 Jun 2013     Getty Images

That much is now clear following yet another solid performance, during New Zealand's 24-9 win against France in New Plymouth.

While the rejuvenation of Rene Ranger's Test career, albeit four months before he says au revoir, has drawn the most attention, Smith's return to the international scene has been crucial to the success of this current group of All Blacks.

His profile may not be as prominent but he turns heads when it counts - on the pitch. His reward? The full attention of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who is keen to see more.

Call it a coming of age. Smith is now the Test player Graham Henry thought he could be when he handed him a debut against Italy in 2009.

Last year the 27-year-old made sure Hansen could not ignore him, and in Corey Jane's absence he has made the right wing spot his own.

He was a solid performer when those around him struggled to hit their straps at Eden Park.

He mesmerized in Christchurch and at Yarrow Stadium his try late in the first half proved crucial in another scrappy performance.

"I just think I've got a bit more confidence out of each performance and I'm just starting to feel confident at this level," Smith said after sealing a 3-0 whitewash against France.

If game time is what he needs, then Hansen and assistant Ian Foster will gladly cater to that.

With Jane set to miss the Rugby Championship, Smith's combination with Israel Dagg and Julian Savea in the backfield will only continue to grow.

During this series his deceptive speed and evasive skills have often brought the All Blacks attack to life. That will come in handy when they attempt to break South Africa, Australia and Argentina.

Smith said although their showing in Taranaki was less than convincing, the tightly contested battle provided the type of challenge that made the outside backs stronger as a unit.

A week previously the All Blacks enjoyed a clear tactical advantage but the improved French made them work for everything they got.

"I think they were just a little bit more accurate in the things they did and the score didn't reflect the actual match," said Smith.

"They adjusted to last week, they must have gone and looked at a bit of footage and come back tonight and improved.

"It was good that we got tested - their kicking game put a lot of pressure on us."

Smith admitted he would enjoy a switch to centre, but said he wasn't disappointed not to be given time there despite the likelihood that he will wear Conrad Smith's No 13 jersey when he takes a sabbatical later this year.