Saturday will see one of the biggest milestones in the career of arguably the best scrumhalf in the world, Aaron Smith.
Smith is set to take the field for the one hundredth time in his country’s colours as the All Blacks take on the Wallabies in first Test in the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday.
The 32 year-old Smith began his professional career at Manawatu in 2008 at the age of 19. Three years later, he was picked to represent the Highlanders in Super Rugby and has remained at the club ever since.
It quickly became apparent that Smith was something special. Standing at just 1.71m and weighing only 83kg, he was never going to be imposing physically, but he made up for it by effectively marshalling his troops on the field with his ever-present verbal encouragement, a shrewd rugby brain and a bullet pass which would delight any flyhalf.
It was only a matter of time before the All Black selectors would read out Smith’s name and his chance came on 9 June 2012 against Ireland. Following on from his Super Rugby form, Smith was sublime on the night and a significant contributor to the comfortable All Black win.
He was a regular feature in the All Black side after that and, working from behind strong packs of forwards, became a thorn in the side of opposition around the world.
Smith was also a prominent member of the World Cup-winning outfit in 2015 and has never been on the losing side of a Bledisloe Cup.
In 2016, a special honour was bestowed upon Smith as he was tasked with leading the Haka after the retirement of Kevin Mealamu.
During the 2018 season, Smith became the most-capped scrumhalf in New Zealand’s history, surpassing the record previously set by the legendary Justin Marshall, all the while staving off stiff competition from the likes of TJ Perenara.
Earlier this year, in front of his home fans at the Forsyth Barr Stadium, Smith was given the honour of captaining the mighty All Blacks for the first time – against Fiji – in a game his team won comfortably, 57-23.
Speaking on his choice of captain, All Black Head Coach Ian Foster said:
“Aaron is a special player with real mana and a natural leader and his preparation is second to none. I’m sure he, his wife Teagan and his wider whanau will be proud of what he has achieved."
When Foster told Smith of his achievement, the former described the latter as being somewhat subdued by the news.
“Probably a little bit subdued in some ways, from the external side, internally, very proud.
“He’s earned it. He is a big part of our whole leadership group, he’s grown to be an outstanding ‘preparer’ for a test match. So I think there is a little bit of a reward there, but it is something we are very confident in.
“We’ve watched his leadership through the Highlanders and thought he did a great job there as well, so it gives us a lot of confidence to give him that title.
“We gave him the captaincy because he’s earned it and because we’ve looked at this period and how we manage the resources, so it was always an intention of ours.
“I guess for him, being here in Dunedin, if it needs to be any more special, it probably will be.”
Retaining the Bledisloe Cup has become something of a habit for the All Blacks which most people will expect them to resume this year. For the third time in his career, Aaron Smith will don the captain’s armband and busy himself plotting the downfall of the Wallabies once again.
He has certainly proven himself to be a remarkable rugby player and, with this new and exciting leadership role on his shoulders, it is expected that he will continue to do great things with the All Blacks for seasons to come.