Aaron Smith (R), seen tackling Piri Weepu at an All Black
training session in Edinburgh, will wear the No 9 jersey
for the All Blacks against Italy this weekend. (Photo by
Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
As much as individual brilliance bubbles through the All
Blacks, it is the team ethos which creates their momentum.
Consistency comes from selflessness and that old saying about
there being no "I" in team.
While the sides were split for the opening tests against
Scotland and Italy, there was huge attention paid to
This week captain Kieran Read and halfback Aaron Smith get a
chance to build their test potency and find the rhythm they
will need against Wales and England.
Players can train all week and make few mistakes. While that
is a necessary foundation for any side, it is no substitute
Victor Vito found that out against Scotland.
He has had a fitful test year after earning the blindside
role with some stunning Super rugby work but then damaging
his knee in the opening tests with Ireland.
After that he battled to get back to full fitness and a
regular place in the side.
So Read and Smith will see this test as a crucial segment of
their return to the test team.
They are at the hub of the All Black machine; they are part
of the spine and core of the side whose strength determines
the quality of the team production.
If they are powerful, slick and accurate there is a
consequent zing about the All Blacks, a flow which most
opponents find difficult to quell for entire matches.
Read brings the rampage and the power, Smith the speed and
Like all players they have parts of their game to
Read's may be his control at the base of the scrum, Smith
knowing when to launch one of his searing bursts.
But they are both setting the global standards for their
positions. Read and Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe
are great combatants, men who deliver premium standards in
most test appearances.
Without the injured Will Genia, the world and the Wallabies
have been deprived of the game's best halfback.
Suddenly Smith is challenging a clutch of others for that
Mike Phillips might have something to say about that in a few
weeks, while Dimitri Yachvili has been a consistent performer
One All Black looking to find a way back towards some of the
clout he used to deliver is Ali Williams, the long-serving
lock whose career has been spiked by injury in the last few
Achilles tendon problems were the worst but he also had knee
surgery this season. His progress has slowed and after years
of being an automatic pick, he is now in the fortunate
By default, lack of recognised test alternatives - take your
choice for the selectors' decision.
What is clear is that Williams has to show something on this
tour and then a whole lot more with the Blues next season to
prolong his international shelf-life.
He knows it and despite his sometimes aberrant public
appearances and utterances, Williams covets the jersey as
much as any player. If he works hard and adds to the team
character, that dream has a chance.
- Wynne Gray