Aaron Smith "lucky" to be back training after Covid-19 affected Super Rugby season

By James Perry

As Super Rugby teams return to training ahead of the season re-launch, uncertainty continues around international fixtures involving the All Blacks.

However, All Black great Aaron Smith is equally excited to play for the Māori All Blacks if that option became available this year.

The gruelling fitness tests was visible in the faces but the Highlanders are grateful to be training again when parts of their region are still feeling the effects of COVID-19.

Highlanders and All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith says "I think we're lucky that the NZRU and that have been able to get us back in training.

"We're very lucky. Some people aren't even back at work yet and we're very privileged with our position and as players, we're trying to be grateful for that."

As the Super Rugby teams continue their preparations for the new-look competition beginning next month, NZ Rugby is still exploring options for international football for the 2020 year. They have already announced the suspension of the tests against Wales and Scotland, and are hopeful a trans-Tasman bubble may allow the All Blacks to play the Wallabies.

However, if the All Blacks aren't able to play any games, Aaron Smith would relish the chance to play for the Māori All Blacks if any fixtures can be arranged for them. In fact, in these uncertain times the Māori Sportsman of the Year 2019 says he would happily play for any team that would have him.

"As an older player now you're just grateful for any opportunity you get. Māori was the first sort of national team that I made and, I had an awesome time there, learned a lot about my whānau and that so it would be great. 

"But yeah, all those things are cool. The Māori, the Barbarians, and the Pacific Island teams. The North/South. All those things are good," he says.

And if that was not possible, the Feilding born and bred Smith is eyeing the chance to return home to the Manawatū Turbos and tick off a goal that he's been waiting a long time to achieve. Not to mention distinct possibility of linking up again with his former Turbos and All Blacks mate Aaron Cruden at Central Energy Trust Stadium, Palmerston North.

"That's where it all started for us. So it would be sort of a full circle. I'm a big man around goals, so I'm a few games short of fifty [games] for the Turbos so if I could get out there and play and try and knock that up that would be pretty awesome too," Smith says.

Another one of Manawatū's favourite sons has settled in the Highlanders camp. New signing Nehe Milner-Skudder was put through his paces in Dunedin as he continues to make his way back from a shoulder injury.

Smith says that although Milner-Skudder has been sidelined through injury for a long time, he is still sharp as ever. 

"As the rules of isolation, you're in small groups so he's not actually in my gym group and that, but I've seen him at our main team meetings and trainings and, it's just great to have him around the environment.

"He's such a good man off the field and also yesterday we got to see him use that hot feet and speed and agility that we love to see Nehe do."  

The Highlanders managed to secure a solitary victory against the Brumbies before COVID-19 interrupted the season. Smith says the players are hopeful they can turn their fortunes around in the new competition.