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Aaron Smith bounces back to deliver for All Blacks

Published: 8:31AM Sunday September 16, 2012 Source: Fairfax

The All Blacks coach was a satisfied man after young halfback Aaron Smith responded to his kick up the butt in the best possible fashion last night.

Smith's high-energy, try-scoring 40 minutes off the bench was a big factor in the 21-11 victory by the All Blacks over the Springboks at a sold-out Forsyth Barr Stadium - all but sealing the inaugural Rugby Championship for the world champions.

That change in role came after the Manawatu and Highlanders halfback had been dropped to the bench for breaking a team curfew in Wellington last Saturday night.

Steve Hansen had clearly challenged his rookie No. 9 by publicly outing his indiscretion, and last night the All Blacks coach reflected with satisfaction on the way the youngster met his challenge.

"He gave us the response we were looking for," said Hansen.

"He really only had one response he could deliver to be satisfied, and that was to come out and play well. He certainly did that.

"He scored a great try. I don't know he'd be that happy about the try that [Bryan] Habana scored, but he came out and made a difference and that's what we want our run-ons to do.

"It was a tough week for him but a great lesson - he made a mistake. We've all made mistakes in our lives. Hopefully he learns from it and the rest us do too."

Smith said he'd played "with a chip on my shoulder" after deciding he had to prove himself to his coaches. And after missing that tackle on Habana early on, he was double determined to produce a positive performance.

"I definitely wanted go out there and prove a point," he said.

"I was very happy I was able to get out there with a lot of time on the clock. You want to be a part of these Test matches. I was happy to get on on my home ground.

"I wanted to repay [the coaches] and I'm very thankful how the week ended up, and that we got the win. I'm feeling a little better but you've just got to keep working hard."

Smith said he was determined to "learn from this week" but that now was the time to move on.

"I'm looking forward to a couple of days off, then a bit of training before we head to Argentina and Africa. I'm excited about the next few weeks and hoping to finish well."

Though Smith provided a much-needed lift with his injection into the Test, Hansen refused to criticise veteran Piri Weepu for a disappointing first 40 minutes at halfback, suggesting the World Cup-winner would have been happy to have seen his colleague perform so well.

"He's a different type of player," said Hansen of Weepu.

"That's why we picked the two halfbacks - both can deliver a different type of game. Last week Piri came on in the second half and delivered the game we picked him for. Tonight was different conditions that probably suited Aaron better."

Hansen was pleased to have emerged with a victory in such a challenging encounter.

"We're very happy with the win. It wasn't the complete performance but those who watched the match would understand that was a torrid Test.

"We had an opponent who were desperate and played with a lot of commitment and physicality and in a test match like that sometimes it tests your character.

"I was really pleased with the character of our older statesmen plus our younger players - for some it was their first time in that arena, with that type of rugby, and I thought we came through it really well."

Skipper Richie McCaw, who described a late knee to the quad as "nothing serious", said he'd been happy with the way his men worked their way into the Test after a furious Boks opening quarter.

"They're big men and they put heat on round the fringes, both carrying ball and at the breakdown.

"Perhaps for the first half we got caught flat-footed at times, but as the game wore on, especially on defence, we looked after their big ball-carriers pretty well.

"That was certainly a step up in intensity and physicality on what we've had so far this year. They're fun to play in because if you come out on the right side, it's pretty satisfying."

Hansen confirmed he hoped to take Dan Carter among his 28 to tour to Argentina and South Africa.