Settled Smith facing testing experience
June 13, 2007
As a former Southland representative, Canadian first five-eighth Ryan Smith is familiar with being on the back foot on a rugby field.
But he accepts any difficulties experienced during his time in Invercargill during the 2005 NPC will pale in comparison to what awaits at Hamilton's Waikato Stadium on Saturday night.
Named to line up against Daniel Carter when the All Blacks complete their pre-Tri-Nations programme, Smith takes little comfort from the fact the code's premier pivot is carrying an injury, lacking game time and struggling for form.
"I know what he's about, he's probably the best player in the world -- the good thing is he doesn't know about me."
That is not necessarily true as the pair have already met, albeit briefly, at the 2003 World Cup.
Smith came off the bench for the last 14 minutes of the All Blacks' 68-6 pool victory in Melbourne, a rout Carter started at second five-eighth.
Since then their careers have taken radically different paths; Carter matured into New Zealand's king playmaker while Smith continued to flit between backline positions as he struggled to find his niche.
Now, with a 25th test cap looming, it seems the Toronto-born 28-year-old has found his place in the starting 15 under coach Ric Suggitt.
"I was the utility guy, which is good because you knew you'd always be in the team but you didn't know if you'd be starting," said Smith who has only played four tests in the No 10 jersey.
However, he staked his claim during the Churchill Cup last month and Suggitt has indicated he is his preferred No 10 for the World Cup in France -- where Smith plays for Top-14 side Montauban.
Obviously, Saturday's test will be a step up in class and although the Canadian backline is settled -- particularly the back three of Mike Pyke, goalkicking wing James Pritchard and Justin Mensah-Coker on the other flank -- Smith acknowledges they may not have the latitude to express themselves.
"We have a lot of attacking power with those guys, they have a fair bit of pace and can match it with anyone but we're going to be defending for 60-65 minutes of the game.
"Defence is going to be the main thing, we're focused on that but we're not going to back down when we have the ball."
Smith hinted at a ball-in-hand approach, saying it was pointless to kick hard-won possession back down the likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu's throat.
"It doesn't make much sense to kick the ball away with the attacking power they have everywhere."
"France was a bit timid (last week)," said Smith, who levelled the same accusation at his 2003 team.
Canada were also overawed when they last played the All Blacks, nervously coughing up the ball.
"We had the ball for 20 minutes or so, but when we did we played 10-man rugby, we never left a space of 10-15 metres before losing the ball."
With former Wallaby Glen Ella on board as the backs coach, Canada will attempt a more expansive approach, although the Australian's influence is understandably yet to be realised.
He only joined the management setup here on Sunday on a contract through to the end of the World Cup.
"He's already been on the periphery watching us and talking to Ric.
"We're not going to pick up much in the first couple of days, even weeks ... he's still got to get a handle on what he wants us to do as a backline but he's really going to make an impact."
Canada head from Auckland to Hamilton today to complete their preparations, leaving behind a central city hotel for accommodation at Waikato University. Rooms were at a premium due to the annual Fieldays at Mystery Creek.
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