Team has confidence in full squad

Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith
Why do the Highlanders keep subbing off All Black halfback Aaron Smith?

He is their best player. The most experienced, too. You want him on the field when the game is in the balance.

Yet the 31-year-old watched the last 10 minutes of the Highlanders’ 17-11 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington on Sunday from the bench.

He was on the sidelines again for the final stretch of the 40-20 loss to the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium a week earlier.

There is no telling whether Smith would have made a difference in either match. But his absence certainly did not help.

And the sight of him sitting down has inspired the odd social media post pondering whether the tactic has merit.

Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett gave a diplomatic response when asked about the decision to rest arguably the world’s leading No9.

"Oh look, Nuggy has been in outstanding form hasn’t he?" Hammett said.

"We’ve been stoked with where he is and his leadership has gone to another level. He has been superb from that perspective.

"But we also have full trust in the squad. Kayne [Hammington, Smith’s understudy] offers a real physical mentality and is a really good communicator as well on defence, and we want to look after Nuggy as well."

And there it is in that last bit. The Highlanders are managing Smith’s workload.

There is certainly no need to nurse Smith through what is a truncated Super Rugby programme this season, so it seems the team is sacrificing for the greater good.

That greater good being the All Blacks’ fading prospects of playing any international rugby this year.

Hammington will not be replacing Smith this weekend. He fractured a bone in his hand late in the match against the Hurricanes and will miss the remainder of the campaign.

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