AARON Smith’s international career has got off to a bright start, but the biggest challenge is set to come tomorrow night in Sydney.
The snappy halfback impressed against an up-and-down Ireland side, but battling Australia and Will Genia, arguably the world’s best number nine, in 2012’s opening Bledisloe Cup match is on a whole new level.
They pair are similar – small of stature, evasive, and with crisp passing.
Smith, who has played close to 50 games for Manawatu, revelled in his debut series and was looking forward to the new challenge.
“Coming back into the team was exciting,” Smith told Fairfax NZ.
“I had that little break from the Highlanders and I was very keen to get into this Rugby Championship tournament.
“Growing up as a kid, you always wanted to see New Zealand get up over Australia.
“We had a stern talking to from the senior players on Sunday night about what this means to them, what’s on the line and what the Bledisloe Cup means to New Zealand.
“That all sunk home for me, so it’s going to be an exciting event.”
While Smith remains the All Blacks’ number one halfback, there is pressure from Piri Weepu and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
The All Blacks selectors made it clear when they named their squad for the Irish series that they didn’t want to have two inexperienced halfbacks in the squad together, hence Weepu’s retention.
There will be three halfbacks on the end of year trip to Europe, and coach Steve Hansen has already marked Kerr-Barlow’s name down.
But with the way the Chiefs halfback has been continuing to progress, it will be interesting to see what happens next year.
However, that is all in the future and the first task for Smith is to play well tomorrow in his first match against the All Blacks’ big rivals.
He hadn’t played for six weeks as the Highlanders had a final round Super Rugby bye, until a 20-minute double header against Counties Manukau and Auckland.
“It was really good to get that hit out against Counties and Auckland,” he said.
“They really came out fizzing and it’s really something I needed after a month of no footy.
“I’m feeling good going into this game but you can’t really prepare for being at test match level. I hope I’ve taken all of the right steps over the last three or four weeks to get right and I hope I’ll be at my best on Saturday night.”