100-test All Black Aaron Smith has provided a unique Dichotomy of this professional rugby player today with his All Blacks unavailability choice, by choosing family ahead of a three-month odyssey overseas.
Unique, as is his choice to not only stay home for the birth of his second child that was put ahead of his contractual demands, though it was quickly ‘promoted’ by New Zealand Rugby (NZR) as being a favourable choice of traditional rugby values (by missing quality time with family) and offering to play with his national provincial rugby (NPC) side instead.
The dichotomy is seen as ‘a contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different. Some would say that traditionally, a player’s loyalty to his profession might go ahead of any family commitments. Yet Smith’s actions are polar opposite to those engrained preferences – in fact, you call them a reflection on modern professionalism, as much as the loyalty he has already paid it 100 fold.
So pivotal is the player, his play has driven successful Bledisloe Cup matches, as well as Super Rugby and national provincial rugby (NPC) rugby. Missing for some, or even all of the remaining International matches will be felt as much for his absence but, also for the prioritization of family and, the difficulty of New Zealand’s border control policies.
Aaron Smith All Blacks unavailability a Dichotomy on modern Rugby player
Considered the very best in his position, a replacement will find it hard to fill the empty boots of ‘Nugget’. And missing Aaron Smith is not favourable for the All Blacks task in 2021, however, it is a pointer to how much family means to the 32-year old. With a baby due in October, leaving with his teammates would have seen him return and find his wife and a newborn. It did not sit easily with the Highlanders co-captain, so his call to stay was so sudden that his travel bags left with the squad and will now travel with the All Blacks within Australia, alongside all others.
There is a possibility that he might reunite with his bag, and his teammates, provided he stays fit. That is why as the father waits on the birth of his second child, he will train and (most likely) play for the Manawatu Turbos in the Bunnings NPC. And Ian Foster will be keen for the halfbacks performances to maintain their usual high level; even if he is distracted as an expecting parent.
In a statement from the player, he explained that “Baby will come when baby comes. My wife’s already said that that’s an option, if baby comes early, that she’d be happy for me to go. If that happens, I’ll jump at it.”
Excited to get back in the green and white hoops and play for the Turbos. Gutted not to be able to join the ABs, but silver lining is being here with my family and especially for the birth of our second baby. Can’t wait.#Tuuuuurrrrboooos pic.twitter.com/CCxDB8AElP
— Aaron Smith (@Te_Nug) September 14, 2021
“I think I need to play some footy. If I can play some decent minutes, play well enough, and if Fozzy [coach Ian Foster] feels like it looks good enough to come over, I’ll be happy to join.”
Loyalty to Manawatu Turbos could earn Smith a blazer
Sitting on 45 caps for Manawatu over the course of his 13-year professional career shows that commitments to the black jersey superseded his time in Manawatu’s green and white. That should be rectified this season, as the Bunnings NPC restarts after New Zealand’s sudden Lockdown restrictions eased in areas outside of Auckland.
Beginning his active role with the province, Smith found himself in the unique position of needing to ‘ask his head coach if he could play’. The strange request was taken by Peter Russell, and might see the halfback inspiring his Turbos teammates as well as keeping game-fit.
This weekend, Manawatu will have a Bye, as their scheduled game against an Auckland-based side is postponed until that cities three provincial sides can return to play [unable to in Level 4 Lockdown], so Smith’s first opportunity might be on September 25. He will have to compete with captain Jamie Booth, so the expectation is that Smith may be selected as a substitute – the most qualified, in the entire competition.
Coincidentally, Sam Whitelock is also in a similar position where he will join the Canterbury squad in training and possibly playing too. That is before he joins the All Blacks when they reach the Northern Hemisphere. Whether Smith is on the same flight is up to mother nature, and will certainly not be induced because of rugby.
A choice to stay loyal to his family is admirable. He might well be able to play the five matches needed to earn his 5oth cap, and the cherished blazer which is rugby tradition.
The benefit to his home province might in fact be a metaphor for how Covid-19 restrictions on International sports influence the choices of future rugby union players, and many other sportspeople.
New Zealand’s border controls inhibiting Professional sportspeople
With the snap Lockdown putting rugby on hold, it was another example of how the Government has attempted to control the borders and prevent the Delta variant of Coronavirus from establishing itself. Controlling incoming travelers is a firm policy, along with managed isolation. That is limited though, and with over a thousand cases reported since mid-August, it has impacted sport.
The All Blacks have been afforded slots in the managed isolation (MIQ) accommodation yet for the general public, and citizens outside of New Zealand, it is a control that makes leaving and returning difficult (to say the least).
Politics aside, for any athlete wishing to ply their trade and compete offshore, it is not as easy as just booking a ticket. So the decision is influenced primarily by the ability to return to NZ. Golf players, Triathletes, Motocross riders, and the like are now outspoken on the effect the policy is having on their careers and their life choice.
Sally Currie – wife of Triathlete Braden – expressed her frustration when saying, “They’re not represented by the big bodies like the rugby union or cricket or netball, but they’re athletes that represent New Zealand and do New Zealand proud,” she told TVNZ.
Whereas Aaron Smith has chosen family above his role with the All Blacks, if he joins the squad later, his return spot is already guaranteed. For a regular traveler or athlete leaving, they do not have that security. Though for all the machinations of the immigration processes, the values Smith exhibits are commendable. It will also possibly see him give back to his province, so indirectly it is praiseworthy.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images