All Blacks legend rejects Antoine Dupont claim as Aaron Smith the true ‘number one’

Colin Newboult
Aaron Smith tackling Antoine Dupont during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Aaron Smith tackling Antoine Dupont during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Ex-All Blacks coach Wayne Smith was in no doubt that Aaron Smith was the “number one” player in the game, despite the brilliance of Antoine Dupont.

Known as ‘The Professor’, the 66-year-old has one of the brightest minds in the sport and rated the great New Zealand playmaker ahead of the outstanding Frenchman.

Dupont was named World Rugby Player of the Year in 2021 and has continued to be among the best around, with most putting him ahead of his Kiwi rival.

However, in a new TV series, Wayne Smith reckoned that Aaron was not just the premier half-back but also the best player out of everyone during the previous Rugby World Cup cycle, rejecting Dupont’s claim to the throne.

‘Won it all’

“The best thing I can say about Aaron is, about two years ago they were putting together a list of current players, the top 50 in the world, I put Aaron Smith down as number one. As the most effective, game-changing, best player in the world at that time,” he said in the All Blacks Game Changers series.

“Everyone else was putting Antoine Dupont down as number one. I said yeah, he’s a good player, but how many competitions has he won? He’s got a few at Toulouse but how many major titles has he won with France?

“Aaron Smith has won all of them.”

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Ex-scrum-half Justin Marshall, who represented the All Blacks between 1995 and 2005, felt that Smith was a game-changer.

The 35-year-old represented New Zealand over 120 times, appearing in three Rugby World Cups in 2015, 2019 and 2023, but it was his style of play which made him particularly unique, according to Marshall.

The modern half-back

“I think Aaron Smith changed the game and changed the theory of the way the half-back should modernise the game,” Marshall said on The Breakdown.

“There was a period that I was involved with where the game was quite slow around the breakdown, where the five-second rule wasn’t in play and you had to be a lot more creative.

“You could do that with your own physicality or use steps to try and bring forwards into it to create and generate momentum, to generate fast ball when it was static.

“The five-second rule was perfect for Aaron Smith and the type of player that he was. To come in and have the speed of the clearance, the ability to have vision, have pace.

“The game needed someone like him to say ‘This is how we’re going to speed the game up and this is how we’re going to do it’. I don’t think anybody in the modern day has replicated what he brought to that jersey.”

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