Steve Hansen applauds Ben Smith's heroics
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen hailed the game-changing performance of his fullback Ben Smith in the series-clinching victory over England on Saturday night.
The All Blacks held on 28-27 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on the back of a withering third quarter that saw them turn a 10-6 halftime deficit into a 28-13 lead that the tourists could not quite haul in.
And Smith was the standout All Black on the night, producing a try-saving defensive play on Manu Tuilagi just before halftime that ultimately turned the match on its head, and embellishing that with a polished all-round display in which he did not put a foot wrong all night.
"He was outstanding," Hansen said. "The run-down of Manu was sensational because from that he got up, stole the ball, and we managed to get up on attack and kick a penalty which made it 10-6 at halftime. We only won by a point, so you have to say it was a match-saving tackle.
"His all-round game was very, very good. It just mirrored what he's been doing in Super Rugby at fullback. He's been waiting a long time to get an opportunity and he's seized it."
Assistant coach Ian Foster added his endorsement of a fabulous fullback display from the hometown hero.
"The skillset he has brought really well to the wing he carried on at fullback, in terms of his high ball take, and his contribution to the counter-attack was a real positive. He made a nice statement today."
Hansen felt his players had largely met the challenge of lifting their game in the face of another very impressive England effort.
"We played better, no doubt. I don't know if we've played as well as we possibly can, but we certainly played a lot better than last week and we needed to because so did the opposition.
"It was a great test match. Sometimes games like these are built up and they don't quite meet the expectations but I think tonight's did. Both sides played really positively and threw the ball around and no one would have left not being satisfied with what they saw."