No 9 Piri Weepu's gain is Aaron Smith's pain

Veteran eager to make most of opportunity

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 14/09/2012
Piri Weepu stndrd
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Piri Weepu says he is feeling ‘‘a bit stink’’ at the way he’s gaining a start in the All Blacks team to play South Africa.

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Piri Weepu felt “a bit stink” about gaining his chance through a team-mate's misfortune, but it is clear any sympathy he has for benched rival Aaron Smith will be short-lived.

A tale of two halfbacks played out yesterday after it was revealed Smith had not been considered for selection in the starting side to play South Africa tomorrow, for disciplinary reasons.

All Blacks management was giving scant details about the issue, but did confirm the Manawatu halfback had broken the team curfew after Saturday's 21-5 win over Argentina in Wellington.

It remains unclear what time the curfew was set, or how management knew Smith had missed it, but it is understood to have been nearly midnight by the time the players even left Westpac Stadium.

Coach Steve Hansen said the breach of protocol was “not a major” and said it should not be assumed it involved alcohol.

“There's nothing to elaborate on. He broke a protocol that's a non-negotiable and the consequences are you don't start in the 15 if you break it.”

The team had “strong protocols” around recovery and made “no excuse” for enforcing the team's agreed standards, Hansen said.

There will no doubt be those who think such rules treat the players like children and not all Super Rugby sides have or enforce match night curfews.

However, there are logical benefits to having suitably rested players at morning recovery sessions.

More importantly, Smith agreed to the rules set by the team's leadership group headed by skipper Richie McCaw.

Hansen said it was “irrelevant” whether he would have made a change at halfback anyway, but Smith will be kicking himself for gifting the No 9 to his highly motivated rival.

Weepu explained why he struck an uncomfortable and uncharacteristically quiet figure when he fronted media following the naming of the side.

“The way I feel right now is a bit stink the way it's come about with the disciplinary reasons, but I've got to make the most of my opportunity,” he told the Dominion Post.

“When I was young I took the attitude that when you get an opportunity you try and play better than you've ever played before so I'm trying to make sure I do that and do the job well this week.”

A slimmed down Weepu will make his first test start since the Rugby World Cup final win over France last year after deputising for Smith during the first six tests of the year.

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But while he's believed to have shed as much as 8kg, the 29-year-old says he feels lighter mentally after writing and promoting his recently released book Piri: Straight Up.

Weepu was “skeptical” about the merits of the project at first, but said it had turned out to be a “great journey”.

“I have people tweet me quite a bit saying they enjoyed the book and they've got a better understanding of who I am, which is really positive.

"It's been really good talking about, basically what I get criticised for every year [my weight]. It's just the person I am, I don't really care what other people think ... I think I'm a pretty straightforward person.”

And it's that approach he hopes to bring to the All Blacks' attack against the Springboks and he said the side had learned some important lessons against Argentina.

“We talked at halftime that everyone was panicking. At the back end of the week everyone was really excited about doing things, wanting to be here, wanting to be there, basically trying too hard.

“We said if we do our core roles and do what we talk about during the week without any complications we'll be better, and I think we saw that in the second half. We narrowed everything down, tried to be more basic with everything.”

- © Fairfax NZ News

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