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Rugby Championship
Ben Smith better for wilderness years
August 15, 2014
Greg Growden previews the Bledisloe Cup Test

First Test jitters and several years waiting in the wings have paved the way for Ben Smith to become a first-choice All Black fullback, his form against England in June of such quality that incumbent Israel Dagg was not considered for the opening Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia after recovering from injury.

Smith has certainly come a long way since he made his Test debut against Italy in Milan in 2009, when one of his first acts in the game was to drop the ball.

"That's just one of those things," he said. "It can happen at any time. It's just how you bounce back from that and, at the time, I was probably pretty young and learnt a lot from the opportunities that I got over there."

Smith didn't get back into the team until 2012, but he was a major star for the All Blacks on the right wing last year and his form against England meant his standing as the best fullback in the country ahead of Dagg couldn't be denied.

Ben Smith was exceptional against England in June © Getty Images
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"We see Israel's form where it was, but what has happened is that another guy's come in and really gone to another level," coach Steve Hansen said. "We wouldn't be doing our job right for the team if we didn't pick Ben at fullback on his performances in the last two Tests. They were sensational."

Hansen, meanwhile, said that Cory Jane's good form on the right wing in the third Test against England helped to sway his decision in Smith's favour.

Smith said he wasn't tempted to take up a lucrative overseas contract in his years waiting for an opening in the All Blacks.

"I was always quite keen to get back into the All Blacks," he said. "No one wants to leave thinking 'what if I might have stayed?'."

© AAP
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