The brilliant vision of Conrad Smith
April 24, 2014
Brett McKay dissects the Hurricanes try that ended the Blues fight in last week's contest © Scrum.com
There were only 15 tries scored across the six games in Round 10, and seven of them - well, six and a penalty try - came in the Hurricanes-Blues clash that opened the round. Picking a candidate for the Whiteboard was surprisingly difficult, but the one I have picked says so much about a wonderful player.
All Blacks centre, and Hurricanes Captain, Conrad Smith, has long been one of my favourite players simply because there's no grey areas in the way he plays, or how he conducts himself. In this cliché-riddled world of professional sport, Smith's post-match comments especially can be notoriously honest, almost brutally so in times of defeat.
He's much the same on the field, too. There's just no nonsense about him and it's rare to see him walking off the field having given anything less than 100%. He doesn't always get the plaudits he deserves, yet he's one of the most important players in the various teams he plays for. He's not the flashiest of players, either - he almost stands out now because he's one of the few still wearing black boots - yet he always comes up with the right play in the crucial moments, be that in attack or especially in defence.
If Richie McCaw is the first name Steve Hanson writes down in an All Blacks selection meeting, I can't imagine that too many other names would appear before Smith's.
And it was Smith's incredible, brilliant vision, and the aforementioned ability to always come up with the right play, that won out in today's selection for the Whiteboard in the end.
Watching it unfold live, I was first putting this try down to some pretty handy vision from giant winger Julian Savea, who also showed his game is not all about brutality and trampling blokes, when he put through a neat little chip kick in counter attack.
But what made the try, really, was the awareness of Conrad Smith. And we'll come to that in a minute.
It all started with a Hurricanes scrum back on their 40m line. Right winger Cory Jane broke down his flank and kicked ahead, which the Blues took to ground around ten metres out from their own line. The Hurricanes got bodies through the breakdown, and it was all a bit messy, but the Blues finally got it out for a clearing kick.
But this would be a Benji Marshall clearing kick, and even when back in league, he's never had the biggest boot on the park, much less under this kind of pressure with his Hurricanes opposite Beauden Barrett coming through on him attempting to force a charge-down.
Marshall's kick was fielded by Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor on the Blues 40m line, and immediately threw the long pass inboard to Savea.
As Savea begins to move downfield you can see Smith move back into a support position © Scrum.com
The image above shows it beautifully, the noticeable happening while the pass was thrown from Taylor to Savea was the sight of the Hurricanes skipper running like the clappers back toward his own corner, to be in a support position for Savea.
Smith knew Savea would take on the three Blues defenders coming through, so being able to provide support could turn this counter into a seven-point play. Its puts the effort of running back in that position into perspective.
The three Blues defenders were led by flanker Luke Braid, and as Savea came to Braid, the space in behind the Blues' line of defence became more apparent. Savea chip-kicked over Braid, immediately taking him and one of the other two Defenders out of the contest, and turning it into a footrace between Savea and whichever Blues players could turn around fast enough.
All the while, Smith stayed wide, well outside the line Savea and ball were heading, but close enough to be part of the play when needed.
Smith remained outside Savea's line, but was close enough to remain part of the play © Scrum.com
Savea got to the ball ahead of Francis Saili and Marshall in the end, and was smart enough to toe the ball further ahead as Saili got to him, at least giving his skipper chance to follow through on his angle.
Savea's kick ended up being perfectly weighted, and Smith showed surprising speed to beat Marshall to the ball, given the proximity of Marshall to Savea and the ball when the last kick was put through. It came from nothing, as so many Hurricanes tries do, but it ended up being a perfectly executed counter attacking try.
That try proved to be the undoing of the Blues in this match, too, the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of their ability to keep track on the scoreboard.
Though they led 17-13 going into half-time, courtesy of the penalty try coming from the resultant scrum after Hurricanes hooker, Dane Coles, was given his yellow card, two Hurricanes tries after the break saw the Blues trailing once again.
A Benji Marshall penalty goal - his last contribution in Super Rugby, as it turned out - put the Blues back to within a converted try at 20-27, but this wonderful piece of counter-attack from Savea and Smith's outstanding vision blew that lead out to 14 points, essentially ending the Blues' fight in this contest.
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