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'Back to normal': Aaron Smith in line for All Black return against Ireland

Locks may be thin on the ground for New Zealand, but they can welcome back two world class operators this week.

Image: Photosport/Paul Seiser/INPHO

Sean Farrell reports from Chicago

NEW ZEALAND ASSISTANT coach Ian Foster feels Aaron Smith is ready to return to a starting post for the World Champions, starting with Saturday’s clash with Ireland in Soldier Field (8pm Irish time).

The scrum-half, widely considered the world’s best in his position, became mired in controversy last month after he was prompted to admit a sexual encounter in a disabled toilet of Christchurch airport.

The 27-year-old was given a suspension by the squad’s leadership group and left the tour before a Test against South Africa in Durban to tend to his private life while TJ Perenara took the reins in the number nine jersey.

“Yep. He’s shaped up really well,” Foster said when asked if Smith was mentally ready to return to the starting line-up.

“He’s come in to the camp and he’s focusing on doing his job. As far as we’re concerned, he’s back to normal.”

Aaron Smith Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The promise of a truly world class operator is a welcome boost for the world champions after Luke Romano’s flight home for a family funeral left them with just three second rows,of whom only Patrick Tuipulotu has already been capped.

The tourists will persist with their three locks this week and against Italy on 12 November too, but hope to see Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick back in harness in time for a second clash with Ireland, in Dublin on 19 November.

Long-term Richie McCaw understudy Sam Cane is likely to make his comeback from a hamstring injury against Ireland. The experienced 24-year-old played a half for Bay of Plenty in the  Mitre10 Cup two weeks ago, and won’t be put out if his international coaches employ a ‘one-two punch’ approach to the openside against Joe Schmidt’s side.

“I probably wasn’t up to playing Test footy,” Cane admits, “but (the hamstring) was good enough to play. It was nice to get a rattle on there and it’s progressed from there. No issues at all.”

Traditionally as a seven, you pride yourself on fitness and the ability to go 80 minutes. That’s changed in a way this year and the sort of player Ardie (Savea) is, he’s capable of bringing a lot of impact in the last 20-30 minutes.

“Jeez, whatever works best for this team. That’s always drilled into us and we firmly believe it, whatever selection is made. It seems to be a two-punch combo at seven this year.”
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Sean Farrell

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