Ben Smith out of comfort zone for fullback start

BEN SMITH: Out from under the roof.
BEN SMITH: Out from under the roof.

Ben Smith might have had his first test start in the All Blacks No 15 jersey last week but in some ways he faces a tougher test this week.

Smith has been the undoubted star of the first two tests against England, with one start on the wing and one at fullback, and now he has the more familiar fullback spot he can be expected to kick on and make it difficult for Israel Dagg to reclaim that jersey when the latter returns from injury in August's Rugby Championship.

The self-effacing Smith insists he doesn't mind which position he plays in, having played in three different ones in tests. But throughout his career he has played more at fullback than anywhere else and admits he is most comfortable there as a result.

He knows he got to settle into the custodian position last week in his comfort zone and admits it won't be as easy this week if he wants to make it his own.

Last week the Dunedin 28-year-old spent the week in familiar surroundings, sleeping in his own bed, training on grounds he has been running around most of his life and playing under the roof of Dunedin Stadium, which is the home of his Highlanders and Otago sides.

Now in Hamilton he must get ready to adjust back to fullback play in outdoor conditions at Waikato Stadium, unsure just what the winter weather might throw at him.

"You've always got to prepare for all the different conditions you can get," Smith said.

"Obviously if it rains you've got to adjust in a few different ways, particularly by getting closer, but hopefully it's a nice day on Saturday and both teams can play enjoyable rugby that the fans want."

Smith said the All Blacks back three were preparing assiduously for any aerial bombardment that might come from England tomorrow night with the key trying to be as confident as possible coming forward to catch the high ball.

Having set the marker particularly high with his performance in the 28-27 second test victory it would seem hard for him to find improvement this week, but he is a hard critic of his own game.

"Looking at my game there were a few different areas that I could have done a bit better, just a few decision-making things that I probably need to improve in.

"But you're looking to go out there every week and give the best performance you can and this weekend is another chance to do that, I think," he said.

But don't expect Smith to talk himself up when it comes to making a bid to nail down the fullback spot long term, which would require playing well enough to keep injured incumbent Dagg out of the lineup.

"I just take it a week at a time so this week [it is a matter of] just getting my preparation right throughout the week will give me the best chance to get a good performance and then if that performance is good enough to earn the jersey back the next time the All Blacks play then that would be good.

"I just try and put out the best performance I can, really."

Waikato Times