Aaron Smith savours All Blacks partnership with tactical boss Beauden Barrett

Halfback Aaron Smith will be the most capped All Blacks back on Saturday night, but still takes his guidance from ...

ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT

Halfback Aaron Smith will be the most capped All Blacks back on Saturday night, but still takes his guidance from Beauden Barrett.

Aaron Smith may be the most capped, and voluble, All Blacks back for Saturday’s season-opener against France, but the chirpy No 9 is happy to pass on the ultimate responsibility for running the show.

Yes, Smith will have his say, as is his wont, but when it comes to guiding the All Blacks around the park the Highlanders halfback, who will earn his 72nd test cap on Saturday night at Eden Park, knows exactly where his bread is buttered.

“God, that’s a bit scary, it makes me feel old,” was Smith’s first reaction when told he was the most experienced All Blacks back running out for the June series opener.

“But he runs the ship,” he added, pointing to master first five-eighths Beauden Barrett who was sitting alongside. “I’ve played a lot with Beauden and the trust and time we’ve had together makes me feel really confident about trying to do my job.”

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The 29-year-old went on to explain an oft-repeated mantra about playing in the All Blacks which explains why players are so often able to summon their best stuff under the most pressure.

“In Super Rugby you can try hard to do a lot of things and give as much as you can,” added Smith. “Here you can narrow in on your role, and mine is speed to the ruck, listen, and clear the ball. It’s that simple.

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The All Blacks kick off their 2018 season at Eden Park against France.

“Anything else you can do extra, like cleaning up loose balls or energising our forwards, I try to do. I don’t mind having a yap and telling them what I think.

“But Beaudy drives the ship and if I feel like if I’ve got an opinion on something, Beaudy is really good at taking on what I say. In the end he’ll make the decision and I’ll always back that.”

The Smith-Barrett combination is a vital one for the All Blacks. The Highlanders halfback has found career-best fitness and form in 2018 and appears a re-energised figure.

That’s important, because when Smith is at his best, getting to the rucks quickly and clearing ball with those laser passes, Barrett then has that split-second of time he needs to work his magic.

And the back-to-back world player of the year with any sort of time and space on his hands is a game-changer with his instinctive brilliance.

Smith said clearing ball quickly and efficiently was the core aspect of his game and “something I pride myself on”.

“I’m very excited about getting some really clean ball. The All Blacks always provide that opportunity from set piece and then phase play. It’s fun here, and this guy (Barrett) is pretty good. I just go to the ruck, keep it simple and listen to where I need to pass the ball.

“If we’re going forward you just have to listen to where we need to go and focus on passing the ball. And I don’t mind passing.”

Barrett, for his part, is happy to have Smith in the form he’s in providing him with the gold standard in service.

“It’s a great strength of his,” said the All Blacks No 10. “Even in wet, cold conditions, when my hands seize up, somehow he has the ability to keep flinging them and put them on the spot. It’s obviously something he’s worked on for a while.”

It is. Smith went on to explain a strict regimen he would undertake as a youngster under his father’s guidance that involved a wheely bin and repetitive drills.

“The competitive streak he fed was pretty cool,” explained Smith. “We had a deck and there were beams, ‘can you hit the furthest one, or kick it on to the back of the ute?’ I think he found it fun to see what I could and couldn’t do.”

As the French will find on Saturday night, when it comes to the halfback’s trade, there is now not much that the in-form Smith is off the pace on.

 – Stuff

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