Conrad Smith not fazed by All Blacks' dose of the sophomore blues
All Blacks great Conrad Smith has an emphatic message for those in New Zealand feeling a little anxious over the supposed dip in form by Steve Hansen's men in 2017.
Smith's response to some of his countrymen espousing a theory that the All Blacks have lost their mojo after an outstanding 2016, following a drawn series against the British and Irish Lions and a mixed bag of a first three games of the Rugby Championship, is essentially not to panic, and to keep the faith.
You see, the 35-year-old, 94-test centre, who formed one of the greatest midfield partnerships the All Blacks have ever had with Ma'a Nonu, has seen it all before, and came out very much on the right side.
Smith, now plying his trade with Pau, and heading down under with the club to play in Duco's Brisbane Global Tens from February 9-10, told stuff.co.nz in an interview from his home in the southwest of France that he had experienced an uncannily similar situation with the All Blacks over 2008-09.
"I've been impressed, man. From my own experiences, I thought this year would be tough for the team," said Smith.
"The team last year reminded me of when we came together in 2008. There were a lot of changes after the 2007 World Cup. That ('08) was when Ma'a and I started in the midfield, and there was just a real cool excitement around, and we had a really good year.
"And then in '09 teams targeted us, South Africa ended up knocking us over three times, and we really struggled. I could see the possibility of the same thing happening this year with the All Blacks. It hasn't gone smoothly, but I've been encouraged by the way they've handled the pressure.
"The All Blacks set the benchmark last year and everyone is trying to knock them over. It's nothing new for them. Some of the individuals have been under some pressure, and that's going to be good for them ultimately.
"I think they're heading in a good direction."
That sophomore syndrome didn't work out too badly for the '09 All Blacks, who bounced back from those three defeats to the Boks and another at home to France to eventually plough on to that important 2011 World Cup triumph.
"There would have been huge excitement for the guys last year, and there were low expectations. It would have been a completely different feel at the start of this year because suddenly the expectations are high, and there isn't the same nervousness for the players," added Smith.
"That has a massive influence on the way a team performs, and you've just got to work through that.
"I think they're in good shape for the years to come."
Smith, who has embarked on what he confirms will be his final year as a player with Pau, says he's excited by the prospect of a mid-winter quick trip to Brisbane for a potential unexpected reunion with his old Hurricanes side.
"It's not something I considered when I first came to play in France, that I'd be back possibly playing the Hurricanes.
"I love Tens. When I was younger sevens was a little bit too helter-skelter for me. I played a few Tens tournaments and really enjoyed it because you still have the semblance of XVs but with the faster pace.
"It's great for the club. We've got a good Kiwi influence here already, and it might create a bit of interest and exposure. It will be a good challenge too. We'll be leaving the middle of winter up here to play Tens footy in Brisbane. We might have to change our game-plan a wee bit."
*The Brisbane Global Tens will be staged at Suncorp Stadium from February 9-10 2018.