‘Hurtful, ruthless’: All Blacks star takes aim at team’s critics on South Africa departure

Aaron Smith feels the attacks on coach Ian Foster have been over the top in the wake of the Irish series defeat.

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Aaron Smith feels the attacks on coach Ian Foster have been over the top in the wake of the Irish series defeat.

Veteran All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith was not mincing his words as he prepared to board the plane for South Africa, describing the public and media criticism in the wake of their series loss to Ireland as “hurtful, ridiculous and ruthless”.

But Smith, the 33-year-old, 105-test halfback who will almost certainly add to his 15 appearances against the Springboks on this two-match Rugby Championship visit to the republic, also conceded the players had to take their share of responsibility for the nadir of their first home series defeat in 28 years.

The All Blacks have lost four of their last five test matches, stretching back to the end of last year’s November tour, and are considered decided underdogs heading into a brutal back to back against the world champion Boks in Mbombela and Johannesburg.

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The brunt of the criticism for the side’s anaemic play has fallen on head coach Ian Foster, though skipper Sam Cane had also copped his share of flak. Interestingly, the only two casualties had been assistants John Plumtree and Brad Mooar who had been sacked after the Irish series, with Crusaders forwards guru Jason Ryan brought in.

Both Smith and his equally experienced halves partner Beauden Barrett, who also spoke to the media before they started the long haul to South Africa, dodged questions about the supposedly poor relationship between the All Blacks and the suits at New Zealand Rugby, laid bare by former coach Steve Hansen in his incendiary radio interview on Thursday.

That’s probably understandable, given the slippery slope you would head down throwing shade on your employers, but Smith’s response very much confirmed this is an All Blacks group with its backs against the wall.

“The last two weeks there has definitely been a lot of outside noise,” said Smith. “As a group we had a good meeting on Monday, and a lot of it is around these are the right people in the room and us players have to do our part, get our stuff sorted, get our preparation right.

All Blacks skipper Sam Cane had plenty to ponder after the Irish defeat – the first series loss at home since 1994.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

All Blacks skipper Sam Cane had plenty to ponder after the Irish defeat – the first series loss at home since 1994.

“There’s nothing better than the challenge of playing South Africa in South Africa, we know what’s coming, and it’s up to us as players to own our part of it and get our own stuff right.

“The noise is the noise,” he added. “The pressure of wearing the black jersey, or coaching it, is big. We know that, and it’s every time. We’ve had a couple of results not go our way, but it wasn’t for lack of effort as a group. The two days in Wellington were positive steps towards what we’re going to put out in South Africa.”

It was when asked by stuff if he felt for Foster and the storm of criticism that had rained down on him after the Wellington defeat that Smith really gave an insight into the taut emotions in play here.

“I’ve got a lot of love for Fozzie (Foster) … you always feel for the men in the room. You know they care, and to see a lot of the bad stuff around him and Sam Cane, it’s hurtful and it’s actually gone… it’s ridiculous how ruthless it’s actually been.

“I feel for them as men. We’re backing them and it’s up to us in the next two weeks to put a bit of pride back in the jersey for ourselves, but also the people who have been under the squeeze the most.”

Asked if some of the criticism had gone too far, Smith replied: “I think we can all admit that.”

(more to come)

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