First home game for Smith since 2011

Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith
It will be a rare feeling for Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith this Sunday.

Smith will play his first provincial game at home in more than nine years. The 31-year-old will look to help his home team claim a well overdue victory over Otago.

Smith last played in Palmerston North for Manawatu in early September, 2011 in the final of the Championship against Hawke’s Bay.

Manawatu lost that day and Smith will be hoping there will not be a repeat on Sunday when Otago arrives in town.

Smith came off the bench in the second half last week against Northland and, although he was impressive, it was not enough to stop the home team winning 43-26 in Whangarei.

He was first called into the All Blacks in 2012 and has been the preferred halfback for the national side for the past nine seasons. Overall, he has played 92 tests, 150 Super Rugby games and 44 games for Manawatu.

With Covid-19 delaying the international season, Smith has the opportunity to wear the green jersey talhough it will be for a limited time.

The All Blacks are expected to assemble for a training camp next week. With the Bledisloe Cup due to be played next month followed by the Rugby Championship in Australia, Smith is unlikely to be sighted in Manawatu colours again this season.

Also turning out for Manawatu will be fullback and new Highlander Nehe Milner-Skudder.

Milner-Skudder started the game for Manawatu last week and was yellow-carded late in the game after slapping the ball down although it was a debatable call.

Milner-Skudder is the only player still in the team who played with Smith the last time the halfback turned out for Manawatu.

Otago should go to Palmerston North with plenty of confidence as it has been dominant against Manawatu in recent years.

In 2011, when Smith played for Manawatu in 2011 against Otago, the home team came out on top at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Including the 2011 fixture, the sides have played eight times and Otago has won seven of the matches.

The only win for Manawatu was in 2014 when it Otago 38-25 at Forsyth Barr Stadium during a poor season for Otago.

Otago has notched some big wins in the past few years.

It won 51-35 in Palmerston North in 2012 and then 52-41 in Dunedin he following year .

Two years ago, Otago travelled to Palmerston North and won 50-17. It won last year’s game at Forsyth Barr Stadium 37-20 which also doubled at a Ranfurly Shield challenge.


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