Smith growing into midfield role
Smith growing into midfield roleSHARE
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen expects Ben Smith to go from strength to strength despite a difficult start to life in the All Black jersey.
Although his preferred position is fullback, Smith originally played as a wing for New Zealand but failed to set the world alight with his early performances.
However, he has reaped the benefits of a prolonged run in the team and has already scored 12 tries for the All Blacks since the beginning of 2013.
Ahead of Saturday night's Test against France at the Stade de France in Paris, Hansen believes Smith is something of a late developer but that he fully deserves his place in the New Zealand starting line-up.
"The first thing he had to do was to become comfortable wearing the All Black jersey.
"He did that on the wing and now he has a lot of self belief," said Hansen.
"We spent quite a lot of time talking and going through things with the coaches.
"Now it's just about going out and doing it, learning as he goes.
"He's a very capable rugby player.
"He has played flyhalf, inside centre, wing and centre at club level.
"He played centre for us, he played in midfield for the Highlanders, he just hasn't played a lot [for the All Blacks].
"He needs game time to get comfortable, he might need three, four or five games but I think we'll see him get a handle on the situation quickly and we'll see his attacking flair coming through in the near future."
Smith has been courted by some of the big-spending powerhouses of European club rugby but Hansen is relieved that he was convinced to stay in his homeland, signing a deal until 2017 back in July.
"Like a lot of our good players, there are offers put in front of them all," said Hansen.
"This time he had an offer but New Zealand Rugby wisely put enough money on the table to keep him.
"He wasn't at that point anywhere near the player he is now but the potential was there.
"He is one of only five players in history to score more than 12 tries in a test season, so it's a pretty special year.
"Sometimes we have All Blacks that come in and can't handle the expectation of the jersey.
"There are others who immediately come in and step up to the plate from day one.
"The third type who comes in is not great but the more opportunities he gets the better and better he becomes.
"Ben's one of those. This season he's been outstanding."
The painfully shy Smith admits he wasn't an overnight success but he says he is slowly adapting to his new status.
"Everyone's a wee bit different but the more time you get in the black jersey, the more comfortable you get," he said. "It was pretty tough when I first came in because it was a dream to play for the All Blacks, so I'm just trying to absorb everything."
One player who was an instant hit was wing Charles Piutau, who scored two tries in Tokyo last weekend.
Hansen places him in his second category, those who step straight up to the plate.
"He's taken off, his game against Australia was right up there," said Hansen.
"He looked comfortable, he seemed natural, he's got a lot of confidence.
"He repeated that performance against Japan and we'd expect him to do that again Saturday."
Piutau has already earned the admiration of stalwarts such as fly-half Dan Carter.
"I've been very impressed with Charles, he came into the environment, worked really hard and made the most of every opportunity.
"Last week he was awesome, he's growing into the role in the (All Black) environment."