New Zealand v France
Ben Smith more than 'utility' player
June 4, 2013
Otago's Ben Smith works an opening, Otago v Counties Manukau, ITM Cup, Carisbrook, Dunedin, New Zealand, August 3, 2011
Ben Smith has impressed selectors despite a poor Super Rugby campaign by the Highlanders © Getty Images

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster believes the utility tag fails to do justice to Ben Smith's talents.

Smith's selection in the 32-man New Zealand squad for the three-Test rugby series came on the back of consistently impressive performances for the struggling Highlanders. He also offers versatility in being able to operate at fullback, wing and centre, and Foster sees Smith as having the skills to be a starter in all three Tests.

"That's kind of why I don't like to see the utility tag stuck on him," he said. "He's good enough to play in three positions. For us, it's probably a matter of where we've got the best mix."

With the make-up of the present squad, Foster said Smith looked likely to be used on the wing against the French. Smith himself expressed no preference over where he played.

"I actually enjoy all three," he said. "I don't think I would put a name on one position."

Smith regarded fullback and wing as similar in modern rugby, with the back three operating as a unit. While centre would require an adjustment, he relished the demands of that berth as well.

Smith, 27, who made his Test debut in late 2009 and has earned 12 caps, most of them off the bench, agreed that this year was an important one for him if he wanted to move up to the next level and cement his spot in the side.

As for his ability to keep his standards high during a disappointing Highlanders campaign that has included just two wins in 13 matches, Smith put that down simply to his love of rugby. Some heavy rain in Auckland didn't dampen his enthusiasm for training on Tuesday either.

"It was just good to go out there," he said. "We jogged through our moves yesterday and to get them out on the paddock was good today."


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