Aaron Smith would prefer not to talk about 2013.
It was a forgettable year for the Highlanders and All Blacks halfback, who was unable to recapture the stunning form which thrust him from virtual obscurity onto the international stage in 2012.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself. After a successful 2012 I raised my own expectation about how I should play and be. I didn't have a break after the end of 2012, I just kept training because I thought that doing more would help me get the result I wanted and in the end I started to run out of steam about March, and then I was trying to catch up from then on."
Playing in an underperforming Highlanders team which eventually finished 14th made it even harder for Smith to rediscover his mojo.
"It was tough, but I can't say it was all me. We struggled a bit as a team - not for lack of trying - we were gutsing it out every week and just losing, which was the most heartbreaking thing. That was last year, and, to be honest, I'm pretty keen to put that behind me and get into this year."
Smith had a good break over the summer.
On the way home from the All Blacks' European tour the confirmed fan of American sport stopped off in the United States to watch an NFL game between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins and an NBA game between the Brooklyn Nets and LA Lakers.
"That was pretty special. I really love the NFL - just to go to those sorts of stadiums and those events. The Americans know how to put on a show," he said.
"It was awesome to be a fan, no pressure, just getting to enjoy the environment, eat a bit of food you wouldn't normally eat, just fully let your hair down a bit and enjoy the occasion. During the rugby season we don't get to go to many things like that, it was refreshing that none of the pressure was on you."
Smith will start for the Highlanders against the Waratahs in Newcastle tomorrow night, his first appearance of the pre-season.
As one of only two All Blacks in the team, alongside his namesake Ben Smith, he will be a key part of the Highlanders plans this season but they won't be expecting him to be at his best right out of the box, coach Jamie Joseph said.
"The trend is that we don't really expect these guys to be the best they can be in the first five or six games. Just like everyone else, he'll take some time to get used to rugby again and that's why we've taken that time to transition him into our environment over the course of the last three weeks," Joseph said.
"They are itching to go, but like everyone, that first game can be a bit messy."
- The Southland Times
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