Aaron Smith's kicking crucial element to All Blacks shutting down Israel Folau

PETER MEECHAM/stuff.co.nz

Aaron Smith's bullet pass hogs all the accolades but his pin-point kicking game could prove just as valuable in Sydney this week.

Box kicks from the base have evolved from clearance mechanism to attacking ploy and Smith has been one to make this tactic something of an art form in recent seasons.

The skill itself is not easy to perform. Halfbacks must contend with pressure from opposition players attempting to pull off a charge-down at the ruck; limited space to work in and minimal margin for error.

Aaron Smith's contestable kicking game will be a crucial element to shutting down Wallabies fullback Israel Folau for ...

Aaron Smith's contestable kicking game will be a crucial element to shutting down Wallabies fullback Israel Folau for the All Blacks in Sydney.

At its best the skill requires the perfect balance between height and distance to ensure chases have a chance to regather the pill, or stop the receiver ideally as soon as their feet hit the ground.

The unforgiving nature of this tactic is exasperated when Israel Folau, expected to be picked in his accustomed Wallabies fullback role, is lurking at the back to swallow up any miscued kicks, and immediately have a crack on the counter attack.

Smith's box kicks formed a key pillar in the Highlanders' success  - the southerners often playing without the ball and backing their defensive structures and resolve to get them through.

Smith's combinations with fellow Highlanders Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith, who could both line up on the wings on Saturday, will be welcomed by the All Blacks. All three know each other well.

Through the official's microphones you'll hear Smith bark at his chases when he strikes it sweetly, and with Folau waiting he knows how important this aspect of the opening Bledisloe will be.

"Kicks from me are more about making them contestable. If I get the kick wrong he [Folau] has time to get a little run up on but I back myself to put it near the mark most of the time.

"One positive is if he's catching the ball he can't run. If we don't win the contest then at least put him on the ground so he's not a threat out wide.

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"We'll find out in the next few days about our plans to try nullify him but guys like him you can't nullify it's about limiting the opportunities he has.

"For me it's about putting the kicks on the money so at least it gives our wingers a chance to get in the air and bang bodies or get the ball back.

"We all know he can jump pretty high but anything can happen when you know someone is coming at you as well.

"It's an awesome thing watching two guys go for the ball and I know when I hit a kick good I get excited about what happens next. It's going to be an interesting challenge there."

 - Stuff


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