New Zealand Rugby - All Blacks
Ben Smith becoming a big deal
June 23, 2013
Ben Smith is becoming a player the All Blacks cannot do without © Getty Images
Ben Smith is a big deal: that much is now clear following yet another solid performance, during New Zealand's 24-9 win against France in the third Dave Gallaher Trophy Test at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth. The rejuvenation of Rene Ranger's Test career, four months before he says au revoir, has drawn the most attention but Smith's return to the international scene has been crucial to the success of this 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, but Smith is now the Test player Graham Henry thought he could be when he handed the Highlanders star a debut against Italy in 2009. Smith, 27, last year made sure Hansen could not ignore him, and in Cory 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 mesmerised in Christchurch, and his try late in the first half at Yarrow Stadium proved crucial in another scrappy team 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 the All Blacks had sealed their 3-0 whitewash of France.
Steve Hansen is content with the progress of the All Blacks%]
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. His deceptive speed and evasive skills often brought the All Blacks attack to life against France, and that will come in handy when they attempt to break South Africa, Australia and Argentina.
Smith said the tightly contested battle in New Plymouth had provided the challenge that made the outside backs stronger as a unit. The All Blacks had enjoyed a clear tactical advantage in Christchurch, but the improved French made them work in New Plymouth 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," Smith said. "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 the No.13 jersey when Conrad Smith takes a sabbatical later this year.
New Zealand may have been flattered by the margin of victory (video available only in Australia)