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Smith Pumped For `Virtual Test Match'

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Smith Pumped For `Virtual Test Match'

By Robert Lowe of NZPA

Rotorua, June 17 NZPA - New Zealand Maori rugby halfback Aaron Smith is brimming with excitement at the chance to play in what for him will be a virtual test match tomorrow night.

The clash against Ireland in Rotorua will represent a bit jump for Smith, who is one of two players in the 26-strong Maori squad without Super 14 experience.

The other is Wellington lock Daniel Ramsey, who started in the 37-31 win over the Barbarians last weekend, but wasn't included in the match 22 to face the Irish.

Because of injury to first-choice halfback Chris Smylie, Smith will wear the No 9 jersey at Rotorua International Stadium.

"It's still sinking in," the the 21-year-old Manawatu representative said.

"I'm really excited and can't wait to get into it. It mightn't be counted as such, but it's a test match for us. It will be awesome playing in front of the family and wearing the No 9."

Smith made his Maori debut when he came off the bench against the Barbarians as a first-half replacement for Smylie, who left the field with a fractured cheekbone.

"We were under the pump and I thought, 'Just do the little things right, just go play to play', and half time came quicker than I thought," he said.

"Then they told me, 'You're on for the rest of the game', and I said, 'Cool'.

"At the end, the game was a bit tighter than it needed to be, so that made the heart beat a bit quicker, but I was glad to be able to say I was part of that spectacle."

Smith expected greater physicality to be the main difference between provincial rugby and the international arena.

But not having played against the the likes of Ireland, he couldn't really make too much of a comparison.

"I look at it as an open book; I'll give it all I can give and whatever comes out, come out," he said.

"I don't want to say I held myself back. I want to come away knowing I gave it my best and enjoyed playing with the best calibre of players."

Smith will team up with first five-eighth Stephen Brett, whom he also partnered against the Barbarians and whom he knows from time he spent at the Blues.

"I was with the Blues in the wider squad and I've worked with him a bit," Smith said.

"Obviously in the last couple of weeks, we've tried to fine-tune our combination and I've been getting used to his voice."

The uncapped Brett, who is seeking to push his case for All Black selection, will mark Jonathan Sexton and the duel between the two 24-year-olds promises to be one of the feature match-ups of the night.

Sexton started in Ireland's last three matches of the Six Nations ahead of veteran Ronan O'Gara.

However, a gum infection near where he had surgery for a fractured jaw meant he missed Ireland's build-up match before they left for New Zealand.

Sexton began the test defeat to the All Blacks in New Plymouth last weekend on the bench, replacing O'Gara late in the match.

Smith believed the Irish would adopt a structured and no nonsense approach against the Maori.

"I think they'll be more direct in attack, with a lot of kicking for field position, and they'll be physical," he said.

"Hopefully our skill and flair can come through and we get the win."


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