Aaron Smith’s class shines brightly in 2020

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Instead, the All Blacks halfback with the bullet pass will have to wait till 2021 to bring up his century.

It is as inevitable as day following night, and richly deserved for a player who, despite being overlooked for World Rugby’s team of the decade, has been the world’s best Test halfback since 2012.

There is competition for that title from South Africa’s Faf de Klerk but one of the shining positives from this Covid-19 afflicted year has been Smith’s impressive form.

He was a huge part of the Highlanders’ in Super Rugby Aotearoa and carried that form into the truncated Test arena where he, along with skipper Sam Cane, was the All Blacks best.

There were others who played well, but not as consistently.  Caleb Clarke announced himself with a storming performance in the win against Australia at Eden Park.

Richie Mo’unga was outstanding in the thumping of the Wallabies in Sydney, and Beauden Barrett was very good that night too.

Hoskins Sotutu also showed he could be a regular Test player and there were encouraging signs from Akira Ioane and Patrick Tuipulotu also.

But no All Black (apart from the skipper) was as consistently good as Smith.

“I have a huge amount of respect for what Nug (Aaron Smith) has done,” says one of the best ever All Blacks coaches, Wayne Smith, “and you’d have to say he is in the conversation as one of our greatest halfbacks.”

Of that, there is surely no debate.

Sid Going wasn’t called Super Sid for nothing with his superb running game and strong pass, especially his dive pass.

His two tries against France in the third Test at Eden Park in 1968 were sensational but so too was his play against France in Paris in 1967 and Wales in 1969.

A hero to all North Aucklanders, Going played 86 matches for the All Blacks, 29 of which were Tests, and he captained them five times.

Chris Laidlaw was also outstanding as was Dave Loveridge whose greatest of 24 Tests was the second against the British and Irish Lions at Athletic Park in 1983.

In awful conditions, with a gale blowing through Wellington, Loveridge was masterful with his passing, kicking and running.

Justin Marshall had, till Smith came along, played more Tests for the All Blacks at halfback than anyone else but Smith eased past his 81 Tests at the end of 2018.

“He seems to be getting better,” Smith, the coach, says.  “His speed seems to have increased and he seems stronger.

“He used to tackle like a small man, so his tackles were effective but they were passive, but now he is a lot more physical in that area.”

He’s also a determined and highly competitive bugger.

In the loss to Argentina in Parramatta, Smith pulled off a remarkable try saving tackle on Pumas wing Juan Imhoff.

It was remarkable for the tackle itself, but also because Smith had made a half tackle, that forced the pass to Imhoff, and then recovered from that to get his momentum back and drag Imhoff down.

“That’s the jersey driving him,” Wayne Smith says.  “You only make that tackle if you are really personally driven and care deeply for the All Blacks jersey.”

Smith has had a nine on the back of that jersey 89 times, coming on from the bench only eight times as he has reigned as New Zealand’s first choice halfback.

The speed of his pass sets him apart, but Smith is also a nifty runner as his 21 Test tries shows.

“He has the skill level and the execution and he’s obviously highly competitive,” Wayne Smith says.  “But he also has a huge work ethic and he is never satisfied.

“Richie McCaw was the same, he was never satisfied and he had that work ethic and drive, and Daniel Carter was the same.

“You have to put Nugget in that same group.”

And in three more Tests he will join them in another group, the 100 club.

Aaron Smith 2020 All Blacks statistics

Tests: 5

Tries: 2

Try assists: 2

Passes: 96 (fourth in international rugby for 2020)

Carries: 14

Clean breaks: 4

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