Smith storm no distraction for All Blacks

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The All Blacks are battling swirling off-field issues heading into the opening Bledisloe, but both camps have moved to put the focus on the game, two days out from the Sydney clash.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen opened his Thursday press conference by acknowledging the new development around star halfback Aaron Smith, after text messages emerged between he and a woman with whom he had a toilet tryst last year.

The messages, published by the Daily Mail, appear to contradict Smith’s public stance over the situation, which occurred in Christchurch Airport close to 12 months ago.  

“Obviously the incident happened last year. We dealt with it and we feel that we dealt with it decisively,” he said.

“There's nothing more that I can add to that but if there is anything else that needs to be spoken about, it will come from the New Zealand rugby Union themselves, (CEO) Steve Tew).

"There's not much point asking me more questions around that because I'll just keep telling people I've got nothing more to add.

"I don't want to be defensive about it. It's just the facts of the matter that's how it is.

"I am pretty excited about talking about a Test match, though, if you want to go there. We can stay here all day and talk about that.”

Aaron Smith will not face the Springboks. Photo: Getty ImagesHansen said Smith, who will still start in the no. nine jersey, was in a good mental state, before the All Blacks media manager stepped in to turn the focus back on the game.

"He's in a great head space in that he knows that he's dealt with this issue and done the things that he needs to do around it and he's ready to play,” Hansen said.

"We're excited about wanting to play and he's excited.”

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika dismissed the notion that there would be any vulnerability in the All Blacks side regardless.

“All that other off-field stuff is exactly what it is, off-field. It’ll give you nothing on the field, gives us nothing on the field,” he said.

“On the field is where the game is played, on the field is where the contest is, not off the field and the distractions have to come on the field, that’s where we have to come under pressure.

“They’re a quality outfit, we’ve got to get out there and do our best to put heat on them and play our game as well and that’s where we can create some distraction - the off-field stuff is exactly what it is.”

Though some of the Wallabies have had their own external storms, with Australia’s Super Rugby saga reaching a climax in the past week, it’s been a starkly undisrupted preparation for the home side.

Based in the west of Sydney, Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore said the shift had been a ‘refreshing’ one.

“Penrith was excellent, we could just walk to training, that takes a lot of time out of your day that you spend on buses and things like that, try to maximise that time together and I think that’s been a real positive,” he said.

“It’s been really refreshing to go out to those places and see the people out there and it’s been really good to see what rugby means to them.”

Moore said it wasn’t for him to decide whether that would be an advantage on Saturday, given the storms around their opposition camp..