'Out of form' Ben Smith unfairly treated?
REACTION: Ahead of this week’s deciding Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has rung the changes in his starting XV.
A suspension to Scott Barrett and an injury to Jack Goodhue means Patrick Tuipulotu starts at lock, and Sonny Bill Williams returns to the team, with Anton Lienert-Brown moving to outside centre.
But the most interesting decision by Hansen is to drop veterans Owen Franks and Ben Smith, as well as Rieko Ioane. Nepo Laulala will start at tighthead, while the Crusaders duo George Bridge and Sevu Reece will start on the wings.
This is the first setback Ioane has faced in his so far illustrious career, while Smith is paying the price for his bad form, according to fans on Twitter.
Some feel the Highlanders legend returned too soon from his hamstring injury in order to play in the Super Rugby quarterfinal, and has subsequently looked below the pace since then. With so many wings waiting in the ranks, particularly from the Crusaders, it was only a matter of time that Hansen gave them a chance at the expense of Smith.
However, while many agree on social media that Smith is not in good form, some feel that he has unfairly been made to play on the wing in this Rugby Championship.
Due to Hansen’s experiment with Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett playing flyhalf and fullback, respectively, Smith was shunted to the right wing for the last two test matches. Against both South Africa and Australia, he proved that he simply does not have the pace to play on the wing at test match level, and those on Twitter seem acutely aware of that.
Many are also aware that he is arguably the best fullback in the world and the All Blacks are much stronger with him playing there. He is safe and dependable in the 15 shirt, and brilliantly joins the line in attack, which explains why he has 33 tries in 79 tests. But now at the age of 33, and still finding his best form, the last thing that he would have wanted was to play out of position.
Then again, with the World Cup just over a month away, this is the time to experiment for Hansen, and he would have learned that Smith is no longer able to cut it on the wing.
This is what has been said:
Ben Smith let in 2 tries and blew 1 for us. He was outpaced by a Wallabie forward. Good to see him cut. Won’t play again in any meaningful role.
— Bryan (@Bryan32800778) August 14, 2019
Can’t blame Hansen and co. for punting his wingers. Rieko dominated by Kolbe and then Hodge. Ben Smith looks desperately out of form. https://t.co/Xv0t6WGhKq
— Sam Bruce (@Sambruce86) August 14, 2019
It’s to solve the R wing problem. Barrett at fullback means Ben Smith can play R wing. Unfortunately Smith is now horribly out of form so he’s been dumped too. Basically he is now the best fullback we got.
— Doug Millar (@dougmilger) August 14, 2019
Why is Aaron Smith playing? he’s been outplayed by all our opponents halfbacks sthe last 3 games!! Bloody hell bring on Webber I think he’d cause major problems for white.Also Ben Smith the world’s best 15 and you play him at wing?
— TØngxeFxcкSxmmit (@TenaciousXXX) August 14, 2019
While I agree with that, it has to be said that Ben Smith looks like he is on the slide now, he no longer has that zip, and can’t beat a man on the outside anymore.
The ABs need to pick on form right now.
— OnTheRoadToNirvana (@JHC17626935) August 14, 2019
Somewhat surprised to see them persisting with the Muonga/Barrett experiment which is not working, added to which Ben Smith no longer has the gas to play on the wing. Still, maybe Stevo has a cunning plan.
— Peter Graham (@Peterfgraham) August 14, 2019
How can you drop Ben Smith and rieko ioane..🤷🏻♂️
ioane one of the best wingers in the world and Ben Smith best fullback.
Put smith back to fullback beaudy back to first five.
Bridge and ioane on the wings
— 🇳🇿unpolitically correct 🇺🇸 (@Dredgeydubs) August 15, 2019
Jaysus no BEN Smith .. he’s a full back Steve a FULL back
— 🅰️Lℹ (@TafiaPrincess) August 14, 2019
Incredible that Barrett plays fullback when he could just as easily play on the wing and Ben Smith could return to the position where he has been the world’s best for half a decade. Whole backline has mived around to accomodate Barrett’s poor kicking.
— Sam Hill (@ArmedPossibly) August 14, 2019
Yoh sabaweli umnqanda u-Gada kule nto ayithethileyo qha uzandiphoxa.
Ben Smith is nowhere near his best at 14. He was nowhere in the RC. Get him back at 15 !
& stop with the trying different combinations shit, ku late-i ngoku. Franks, Ioane, Smith bakhiqiwe.
— Bangas. (@samoa__) August 14, 2019
While Beauden Barrett will start at fullback, his brother Jordie is on the bench this Saturday, who is perhaps a more natural fullback. Should Beauden return to flyhalf for the World Cup, which is what many are demanding, Jordie looks to be the natural rival to Smith in the 15 shirt, but the Highlander deserves a chance to play in his best position again.
By Josh Raisey