New Zealand's 'quiet assassin' lays down marker
SPOTLIGHT: Aaron Smith might be firmly ensconced as New Zealand’s No.1 scrumhalf, but “quiet assassin” Cam Roigard laid down a marker in the win over Namibia that could easily see him promoted to the veteran’s deputy.
Smith has started 110 of his 121 Tests for the All Blacks, becoming an essential cog to the team that kicked off its World Cup campaign with an unheralded 13-27 pool defeat by France before rebounding with a smooth 71-3 victory over Namibia.
Smith came on in the 67th minute of Friday’s match against the African side in Toulouse, replacing Roigard, whose two-try showing – full of sniping, an eye for a gap and playing teammates into space – ensured he won the man-of-the-match award hands down.
“He played really well, he had a pack that was giving a platform clearly, but he took his opportunities,” New Zealand coach Ian Foster said of Roigard, dubbed the “quiet assassin” by captain Ardie Savea for his mild-mannered competitive nature.
“It’s one thing to have good go-forward ball but he made really good decisions with that and he should be really proud. We saw the benefit of his running game.”
Roigard, just 22 and in his third Test – first as starter, set the tempo by crossing for his side’s opening try after just 90 seconds.
His second came just five minutes later as he gelled with flyhalf Damian McKenzie, the halfback duo tearing up a Namibian defence at will in an 11-try demolition.
“I was trying to be aligned with our other game drivers, trying to play the footy that we want to, not try and overplay,” said Roigard.
“These type of games, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself.”
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Pull the trigger
Roigard also has competition for the number two scrumhalf spot in the squad from Finlay Christie, who was, in some pundits’ eyes, lucky to be named as back-up for the France game ahead of his younger rival.
In the record 7-35 defeat by South Africa in their final warm-up game at Twickenham, it had been try-scorer Roigard the one shining light as the All Blacks were outclassed by the Boks.
Christie, Foster said before last weekend’s France game, had “a little bit more experience at this level than what Cam has but Cam’s doing everything right”.
“Fin’s probably a strong defensive player in that space and maybe there’s a little bit more of an edge in that space in terms of experience there.
“Just based on the work they’ve done. We’re really confident in all three of our No.9s,” Foster said.
As for Roigard, he has but one aim: “To get another opportunity would be awesome.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said of finally starting a Test, especially after playing just 13 games for the Hurricanes over the 2021 and 2022 season, most as a replacement, before stepping up as first choice in a breakthrough 2023 season after TJ Perenara sustained an injury.
“My main focus is to show and do my role, which is passing and speed to ruck, stuff which unfolds naturally.
“I was given plenty of confidence: trust my instincts, play what’s in front of me at times, which really took the pressure off a little bit.”
Roigard, a former touring car speedway driver, added: “Damian and Beauden Barrett running the show outside me made my job pretty easy really.
“We all know how Damian likes to play at No.10, that style of footy, it suits me as well. It’s awesome to have people outside me who want to pull the trigger and play running rugby.”