Scandal-hit Smith won't play final Bledisloe tie

All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith is said to be remorseful over his toilet scandal, and will have his selection fees forfeited.
All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith is said to be remorseful over his toilet scandal, and will have his selection fees forfeited.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WELLINGTON • All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith has "voluntarily" stood down from Saturday's final Bledisloe Cup match against Australia and received an official warning from New Zealand Rugby (NZR), as the fallout from his airport toilet tryst continued yesterday.

Smith was suspended for the All Blacks' final Rugby Championship match against South Africa a week ago, and flew home following embarrassing revelations of a liaison with a woman in a disabled toilet at Christchurch airport last month.

The 27-year-old, who tearfully apologised to his partner and team-mates after the scandal broke, faced a two-hour disciplinary hearing yesterday.

The hearing's panel, chaired by NZR general manager rugby Neil Sorensen, concluded his actions amounted to "serious misconduct", given the impact on "the reputation of All Blacks jersey and the commercial partners".

"He will voluntarily stand down from assembling with the All Blacks for this weekend's Bledisloe Cup Test match," NZR said in a statement, adding that Smith would also forfeit his "selection fees".

Smith, a regular for the All Blacks in the last three seasons, has earned 54 caps since making his debut in 2012 and was a member of the Rugby World Cup-winning team in England last year.

NZR said that he was committed to getting the support "he needs to deal with personal issues and to work on his relationship with his partner".

"Aaron presented himself as genuine, honest and incredibly remorseful," Sorensen said. "We have also taken into account the fact that the very public nature of this incident, has had a significant impact on him personally."

Smith's continued absence means T.J. Perenara will be expected to hold onto the No. 9 shirt for the match at Eden Park following his dominant two-try performance in the 57-15 demolition of South Africa in Durban.

The All Blacks have already retained the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested with Australia, after taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.

They are bidding to extend their winning streak to 18 games - a record for Tier One rugby nations - which would cement their place as the best side in rugby history.

There has been some angst in New Zealand that the men in black are so far ahead of their rivals that it is damaging international rugby.

However, All Blacks great Richie McCaw yesterday told New Zealand fans to stop moaning and enjoy the moment.

"(Things) can change quick if you let your guard down," he told Sydney's Daily Telegraph. "If you let the standard drop a wee bit... there isn't much between the top teams in the world."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'Scandal-hit Smith won't play final Bledisloe tie'. Print Edition | Subscribe