Ben Smith's warning: Why I'm not done yet

Radio Sport, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 29 August 2019, 7:47PM
Ben Smith says he's not done. Photo / Photosport

Ben Smith admits that he hasn't been playing his best rugby but doesn't want to look back on his last three tests, saying he is comfortable with where he is at after a good week's training which has allowed him to look forward to the Rugby World Cup with genuine excitement.

The 33-year-old outside back, who has played 79 tests, remains an integral part of the All Blacks and his reliability under the high ball in particular will allow the coaches to sleep a little easier before the knockout matches in Japan.

After badly tearing a hamstring while playing for the Highlanders this season, and making it back on to the field a month later to start in the Super Rugby quarter-final against the Crusaders, Smith didn't look himself against Argentina, South Africa and Australia in Perth, a form slip which was made to look worse when compared with the performances of George Bridge and Sevu Reece against the Wallabies at Eden Park.

But he's not finished yet. After playing an important role for the All Blacks in the World Cup final against Australia at Twickenham four years ago (yellow card notwithstanding) Smith will leave for a contract in France next year after doing everything he can for his side to win another one.

"Obviously I've got to play some better footy, but I'm comfortable with what I've done over the last week and a half training-wise and I'm excited about what's coming up and the challenge that brings," Smith told the Herald.

When asked about his recent form, he repeated: "I definitely could be playing better rugby, but for me there's no point looking back on those games. I have to concentrate on what I can contribute going forward."

Starting with the All Blacks' first game of the tournament against the Springboks in Yokohama on September 21, the hard grounds of Japan and the often claustrophobic pressure associated with World Cups seem ideally suited to someone with Smith's experience and calmness under fire and while some keyboard warriors lost their heads a little in calling for Smith's, there's no way the selectors would have been so rash.

Bridge and Reece took their chances brilliantly in the humiliation of Australia at Eden Park as their side retained the Bledisloe Cup, but time was never going to run out on Smith and the same goes for Rieko Ioane, who is undergoing a similar slippage in form.

The selectors named their 31-player squad based on form, class and ability to contribute to a gameplan. Smith and left wing Ioane certainly have the latter two qualities.

"It was good to see Bridgey and Sevu get their chance against Aussie," Smith said. "They nailed it, they performed really well. That's the beauty of the black jersey - you see people get a crack and jeez they take it.

"You've heard Steve [Hansen] say World Cups bring pressure so there's the big challenge of walking towards that. As a group I know we'll be really excited about that. From being a part of the squad in 2015 I know whichever team fronts on the day and plays the best footy – especially in those playoff games – they get to progress. If you don't, you go home.

"Obviously I was glad to hear my name called out. But at the same time … to see a guy like Owie (Owen Franks) who has given so much to the All Black jersey – his name wasn't called out and that hit home, I think."