There are a very few players in the game of union that you would put ahead of Ben Smith in a list of who reigns supreme in the current rugby context.
In the wake of the 2015 Rugby World in which many expected a transitional period for the All Blacks what with the passing of rugby greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter from the international scene, this changing of the tide has paved the way for a new wave of genuine leaders to emerge within the greatest squad in sport.
Ben Smith’s appointment as vice-captain serves as testament to his current standing as an out-an-out leader as his truly world class performances have been a mainstay for the All Blacks over the last number of years.
Part of the Dunedin native’s likability is perhaps his appearance, while to take nothing away from the man, he looks more befitting of an accountant rather than one of the greatest full-backs this generation has had the pleasure of beholding.
Yet, while he does not take the physical form of a titan or Goliath in the backline, Smith’s skill, speed, shrewdness and wherewithal are unprecedented in the game right now. His ability to identify and exploit the tiniest of margins is a God given talent and serves as the precipice on which New Zealand and indeed the Highlanders orchestrate an attacking play.
Smith also provides an unwavering and stable platform in defence, but it is his devastating killer instinct in attack that truly sets him apart. The fact that he can adapt his supreme playing abilities to a number of positions in the back line only adds to his stock making him an invaluable exponent within the reigning world champion’s aspirations.
In the debate of who’s who in rugby’s reigning elite other names that coincide along Smith’s would include fellow All Blacks Kieran Read and Aaron Smith as well as the likes of a fully healthy David Pocock, with a young Maro Itoje beginning to state his claim.
But perhaps what sets Smith apart from these fellow supreme talents is the aforementioned stability and assurance that Smith can provide any squad due to his adaptability. Such is his talent, that the Highlander would make his way into a number of lists for the respective Top 10’s of a variety of positions, which speaks volumes of not only his natural playing ability but also of his incredible rugby intellect.
Smith has been a pivotal factor in the Highlanders recent revolution and will be looking to emulate last season’s first ever Super Rugby success by claiming a second successive title, as they will fancy their chances in the first round of the playoffs when they travel to take on Australian conference champs the Brumbies.