No doubts about his class

Otago's greatest All Black is about to exit the world stage. And the question will still continue. Is he a fullback or a winger?

Ben Smith will get one last run out in the black jersey against Wales tonight. Photo: Getty Images
Ben Smith will get one last run out in the black jersey against Wales tonight. Photo: Getty Images
Ben Smith will play his last game for the All Blacks tonight, just under 10 years since he made his debut for the national side.

Smith (33) will start on the right wing for the All Blacks in the World Cup third-fourth playoff game against Wales in Tokyo tonight.

It will be his 84th test, the most of all Otago players who have worn the black jersey.

Smith first played for the All Blacks in November 14, 2009, against Italy in Milan, where his first touch was a dropping of a high ball.

But that was far from an omen.

His game tonight will be his 33rd test for the All Blacks on the right wing, matching the number of tests he has played at fullback.

The debate around Smith was never whether he was good enough to play for the All Blacks.

There was no question about that. It was more around whether he was better at fullback or as a right winger.

He was equally adept at either position but most from the South would agree he was at his best at fullback.

Smith played there for years for the Highlanders and helped lead the side to the playoffs six years in a row, including the title win in 2015.

At a national level, selectors put him on the wing, then at centre and then in 2014 it looked like fullback was going to be his position until the end.

A few changes, though, in positions around him and tactical changes had him shunted to the right wing in the past couple of years.

The dream scenario for Smith was to go out with a World Cup final win. After a couple of games this year in which the side did not play well and Smith got little ball, he was dropped.

Smith kept his head up but was a frustrated spectator at last week's semifinal loss to England.

He will head to France to play for Pau after the World Cup.


 

 

 

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