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Aaron Smith scored his 21st try for the All Blacks on Sunday.
Aaron Smith got one back on Nic White in the battle of the halfbacks at Eden Park on Sunday.
Smith and White are arguably the two best No 9s in the world and how they played would have a large impact on who would win the second Bledisloe Cup test of the year. Spoiler alert, Smith played better and the All Blacks won 27-7.
But last weekend in Wellington, White outshone Smith. In the first half he put up high bombs in the swirling wind that the All Blacks struggled to hold onto.
He was also dynamic with sniping runs around the fringes of the breakdown and it was partly because of his play that the Wallabies were able to win the forward battle in the 16-16 draw.
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Smith was below par. Not to the extent where he should fear losing his starting role to TJ Perenara, but he did need a bounce back performance at Eden Park.
Nic White leapt over bodies to make a tackle on Joe Moody at Eden Park.
Smith started the test well, with a couple of half chances to break through the Wallabies line over the first 15 minutes.
They didn’t pay off, but showed Smith’s intent that he was going to be more than just a good distributor for this game.
For the most part there was little more than that coming from White. Although his passes, were crisp and clean, the All Blacks closed down his attacking opportunities around the fringes.
In the 22nd minute, the game turned on a play from Smith. The All Blacks were close to the Wallabies’ line, he picked the ball up from a ruck and in true halfback fashion, sneaked under the lanky legs of Ned Hanigan over for the opening try.
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The quick thinking Aaron Smith saw a try scoring opportunity under the legs of Ned Hanigan.
With five minutes of the first half to go, White put up a bomb from a lineout that Caleb Clarke fumbled and it gave the Wallabies a great attacking opportunity before the interval, although nothing eventuated from it.
Smith was replaced by Perenara in the 55th minute. No doubt he still had plenty of gas in the tank, but that’s the beauty of this side, in that they have a world-classs replacement at halfback.
Within a minute of Perenara coming on, White conceded a penalty when battling with Perenara at the breakdown, after the Hurricane had stripped the ball from a Wallabies player.
Perenara broke through an attempted tackle down the blindside a couple of minutes later and by then Wallabies coach Dave Rennie had seen enough, replacing White with the Waratahs’ Jake Gordon.
This wouldn’t go down as one of Smith’s greatest ever tests for the All Blacks. However, he did enough to impress and as Ian Foster looks to establish his mark on the team, he needs senior players like Smith to continually step up.
At the age of 31, Smith is probably approaching the twilight of his career in the All Blacks, but there aren’t any signs off a sustained decline.
So the performance at Sky Stadium can be put down to a blip and when these two teams head to Australia for the abbreviated Rugby Championship, All Blacks fans can once again expect New Zealand to edge out the battle of the No 9s.