RUGBY: Former All Black Murray Mexted is adamant that under-fire halfback Aaron Smith should be named in the side to face Australia in the upcoming Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park on Saturday.
Smith was sent home from the All Blacks' South African leg of the Rugby Championship after it was revealed the 27-year-old had an encounter with a female at a Christchurch Airport toilet the day after the Tst against the Springboks in Christchurch last month.
Speaking on New Zealand radio station Radio Sport, Mexted said he thought Smith "definitely should be playing” against the Wallabies in the dead-rubber Bledisloe Cup clash this weekend, where the All Blacks will look to set a new world record of 18 for the most consecutive wins.
"He's made a public mistake,” Mexted said.
"He's the best halfback in the world, and has been for a long time.
"He's a professional, and he absolutely should play. No hesitation in my mind at all.”
When asked about Smith's desire to play for the national side this weekend following the controversy that he has immersed himself in over the past week and a half, Mexted, who played in 34 consecutive tests for the All Blacks between 1979 and 1985, held a firm belief that Smith's desire to play this weekend should not be undervalued.
"He's a rugby player, he's a professional rugby player,” he said.
"Of course he wants to get out there and play. Once again, it's pretty clear in my head, it's not a debating subject, really.”
Mexted also stated that Smith would have no issue integrating back into the side, referring to the ease in which his former teammates Graham Mourie and Bruce Robertson slotted back into the All Blacks after they withdrew themselves from the squad to face the Springboks in their hugely controversial tour of New Zealand in 1981.
"He will integrate smoothly back in.
"I remember that (Mourie and Robertson's withdrawal from the 1981 squad), I was in that team... It was all very low key though, they just said they weren't available.
"Both of them played again for the All Blacks, and both of them played really well for the All Blacks.
"In 1982, Mourie was back again, and we toured Australia, I think, and Bruce Robertson came over as a replacement.
"There was no issue. You're a professional team, and provided it's not an action against the team, then I don't think there's any problem with integration.
"This is an off-field incident that had nothing to do with the team, so I don't see an issue.”
There has been speculation over who will start at halfback for the All Blacks come Saturday's test, with Aaron Smith tipped by many to make his All Blacks return, while TJ Perenara has excelled in the starting halfback role in Smith's absence.
The All Blacks team to face the Wallabies at Eden Park is expected to be announced on Thursday.
- NZ HERALD