Hometown hero finally gets ABs No 15 jersey
Good things come to those who show a little patience. Just ask Ben Smith who has waited five years, 27 tests and 18 starts to finally get a shot in the All Blacks No 15 jersey.
The fact that, for a born and bred Dunedin boy, the opportunity comes on his home track at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium just makes Saturday's much-awaited shot at fullback against England even more exciting.
Smith, of course, has been one of the best fullbacks in Super Rugby for a number of years now, delivering a succession of standout performances for his Highlanders. But he has played exclusively on the right wing and at centre at test level since making his debut all the way back in 2009 and becoming a regular starter over the last two seasons.
But now Israel Dagg's knee soreness has created an opening that the man they call Bender is only too happy to snap up.
The regular custodian is set to miss the last two tests against England to deal with patella tendon soreness, and that sees Smith switch to fullback, a fit-again Julian Savea return to the left wing and Cory Jane switch back to his preferred right side after a bit of a shocker last week on Eden Park.
''It doesn't come round that often, my first start at fullback, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to play at the back,'' the 28-year-old said in Dunedin today.
''I'll need to make sure I'm working hard with Jules and CJ. I just want to bring some excitement.
''We'll go over our structures this week and make sure we're really clear as to what we need to do come Saturday.''
Asked about the difficulty the back three had dealing with the high ball at Eden Park, Smith offered a wry smile..
''We did a bit of work on it on Tuesday. It was disappointing, but it's a chance this weekend to go out and improve on our skillsets. That's one area we'll be looking to get right this week. All we can do as rugby players is make sure we're working hard at getting better.
''It's disappointing when you don't play as well as you would like and we're keen to put that right. We weren't proud of our performance at the weekend but as long as you walk off the field this week knowing you've played well and put in a good performance, that normally holds you in good stead.''.
Smith also hinted that All Black fans can expect to see less ball kicked away by a back three who seemed reluctant to retain possession at Eden Park.
''You score a lot more points and a few more tries in the stadium. When there's a chance to hold on to it, you can build pressure. It's a great place to play rugby, it's great for the fans to watch a game there and a good chance for us to put out a good performance.''
The hometown hero didn't expect England to veer too much from what they offered at Eden Park which was methodical, direct and largely successful.
''They'll probably stick to something pretty similar to what they did last weekend, when they put us under a lot of pressure in a few different areas. Their new personnel will bring different things, but as a team I think they'll bring a bit of the same really.''
Smith said he would try not to get too pumped about the opportunity he's got, and the chance to run out in front of family and friends, and would retain a focus very much about taking care of his own business.
''I just need to get out there, play my game, do what I do well, don't worry about anyone else and do my job as well as I can.''
Fifteen guys doing just that will go a long way to erasing the agonies of Eden Park.