Criticís favourite Highlander is now Criticís favourite All Black (trialist)

Criticís favourite Highlander is now Criticís favourite All Black (trialist)

Criticís favourite Highlander Aaron Smith has hit the big time. Just as we predicted, Smithís form has been too good to ignore, and he has been selected for the All Blacks training squad from which the team to play Ireland will be fingered. While Aaron is not getting too excited just yet, here at Critic we are predicting a long and celebrated All Black career for the little halfback, starting 9 June at Eden Park. Smith has been pretty busy recently with all the excitement of being the next great All Black halfback. Luckily he found the time to sit down with Critic at a freezing Logan Park to talk about the exciting times ahead.

Itís fucking cold, how are you handling the start of real winter?
I donít think anyone really enjoys the cold. Weíve got a fire and a heat pump at home but Iíve still needed some extra blankets. It was pretty hot in Africa, hot as hell. We were all at the beach.

Most important matters first, tell us about your hairdressing skills Ö
I trained for two and a half years to be a hairdresser when I first got out of school. When I made it into the New Zealand U20s I had to cut my course short (ha). Then I made it into the Turbos so I havenít been able to do it since. I used to enjoy colouring womensí hair, but a nice fade is most popular with the boys.

How does it feel to be named in the All Blacks squad?
It was definitely a shock. I feel very proud to be named in the initial squad. I donít want to get my hopes up too much. I just want to go and learn as much as I can.

What indication had you been given that it was going to happen?
I got a text on Sunday night confirming that it was my phone number, then about ten minutes later I got what looked like a group text that said ďcongratulations youíve been named in the squadĒ. It was probably the best text Iíve ever gotten.

A text? Really?
Yeah, I still havenít really heard from the coaches. Iíve had a couple of emails about where to be and what to do but thatís about it. Itís all pretty boring.

I did have a meeting with Steve Hansen and the other coaching staff a few weeks ago. They just wanted to meet me and that was about it. When I walked out of the room I didnít know what was going on.

Like a job interview?
Yeah, a little bit. It was quite weird. The office was a bit of a dungeon. All the coaches just sat round a table and listened to me talk. It was pretty intense.

How scary is Steve Hansen?
Obviously the fact that he is the All Blacks coach is pretty intimidating. I donít really know him as a person but he seemed like a really nice guy. It was hard to tell.

The halfbacks in the squad are Weepu, Ellis, Kerr-Barlow and yourself. What do you bring to the team thatís different to those other guys?
Iím a bit smaller than those other three. I rate my passing game as different to theirs. Those guys run it a bit more but my game is about getting the ball wide and flat to the first five. I like to bring a good tempo to the game. Those other three guys are some of the best half-backs in the world so itís really exciting to be in that group.

Iíve played against Andy a couple of times. Iíve only ever played against Piri once, a couple of weeks ago. Tawera is always a tough cookie to come up against: You always have to keep your eye on him, heís dangerous.

Iíve noticed this year that the media seems to start pumping up whichever players are playing in the Saturday timeslot every week. What role do you reckon the media plays in whose names get pushed for selection?
I donít think what you guys say makes much difference to anything really. My family always try text me and tell me what someone said but I donít really care what you guys say about me. I just try to show [the media] who I really am. If you like me you like me, if you donít you donít.

How impressed have you been with the crowds this year, and in particular the Zoo?
Itís been great. Getting the Otago faithful back has been really good. Hopefully they turn up for the next couple of games. Iíve been really enjoying the Zoo. There isnít a better atmosphere at any rugby ground in New Zealand. Itís really loud. I love it.

What are your long-term plans with the Highlanders? We donít want another Israel Dagg situation, where you play one really good year then transfer to the Crusaders Ö
I really love being down here. The Highlanders gave me my shot. Getting some accolades this year has been pretty buzzy but I want to pay the Highlanders back by staying for another couple of years. Hopefully we can build a team that we can be proud of and get close to winning the title.
This article first appeared in Issue 13, 2012.
Posted 7:40pm Sunday 27th May 2012 by Gus Gawn.