Former All Black Jeff Wilson believes ‘nothing will change’ in the New Zealand camp despite the disruption of Aaron Smith’s misdemeanour, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Durban.
The disgraced All Blacks scrumhalf was sent home this week after details emerged of him engaging in a bathroom tryst with a woman at the Christchurch airport the day after New Zealand played the Boks earlier this month
As the news broke late on Wednesday, the All Blacks moved to insist that the team would not be distracted by the scrumhalf’s indiscretion, which saw the team’s leadership group unanimously agree that he should be suspended.
Speaking at a function in Umhlanga on Thursday, Wilson – who played 60 Tests for New Zealand – spoke of the team culture that he felt would enable the All Blacks to move forward in Smith’s absence.
‘Part of him being sent home was driven by the team … So it doesn’t change anything, they still have TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who stepped up last week, and they’ll be able to do the job again. The message [to Smith] will be that there are other people who can step into your shoes.
‘At the end of the day he’s paid the price for making a really poor decision, and the team will move on very quickly. The bottom line is that the legacy of the jersey is ultimately the most important thing.’
Earlier this week, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen echoed a similar sentiment when discussing the incident that has tainted the image of New Zealand rugby, but at Thursday’s team announcement press conference the local media were asked not to address the matter any further.
When Hansen was asked whether Smith had formed any part of this week’s game or selection planning, he bristled before stating that they knew from Tuesday that Smith would not play any part this weekend.
Although Perenara has been in good form, he is a different type of scrumhalf to Smith, who was expected to come back into the All Blacks’ starting lineup, where his game management and strong kicking would have been highly valued this Saturday.
Nevertheless, Hansen expressed confidence in Perenara taking the opportunity to slot in at No 9 again.
‘TJ is playing really well, and particularly since June he has gone up a gear, and also really performed well for Hurricanes during the Super Rugby playoffs. He has to do his primary job, which is clear the ball quickly, and his passing has been first class in that regard.
‘He does have qualities that are unique to him, and when opportunities present themselves to exhibit those skills, we are happy for him to do that.’
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