Monday 22 January 2018

Last year's scandals resurface for Kiwis

Aaron Smith has issued an apology for the airport toilet encounter condemned as embarrassing by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Picture: Getty Images
Aaron Smith has issued an apology for the airport toilet encounter condemned as embarrassing by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Picture: Getty Images

Ben Coles

At no point last year was New Zealand's dominance more suffocating than in the Rugby Championship, which returns today as the All Blacks bid for a fifth title in six years.

Aside from Ireland's historic win over the world champions in Chicago, 2016 was an imperious year for New Zealand rugby at international and Super Rugby level, where the Hurricanes triumphed. Overall they won 13 out of 14 Tests last year, by scoring 562 points and conceding just 221.

Last year's final Rugby Championship table made embarrassing reading for Argentina, part of the competition since 2012, along with stumbling giants Australia and South Africa. New Zealand finished with six wins out of six and a maximum 30 out 30 possible points, having registered a try bonus point in all six matches.

New Zealand's maximum points haul was even more impressive considering the distractions they faced in the background of last year's triumph, both of which have reared their heads again on the eve of the 2017 tournament.

Hours before the start of last year's tournament in Sydney, the All Blacks informed police that a bugging device had been found in a chair in their hotel. The device had in fact been discovered five days earlier. Adrian Gard, the All Blacks security guard who came across the device, was only this week found not guilty of making up that he discovered the device.

The situation involving star scrum-half Aaron Smith is unlikely to settle as quickly. Caught in a tryst with a woman in a disabled toilet at Christchurch airport, Smith was stood down for the All Blacks' next match against South Africa.

Smith's punishment was followed by an emotional apology to his family, team-mates and his partner while explaining that the incident was a one-off. However, leaked messages this week between Smith and the woman in question have now rubbished Smith's confession, revealing that the pair in fact carried out a two-year affair.

New Zealand Rugby has re-opened the investigation into the affair, while Smith is still set to start against Australia.

Today's other contest, between South Africa and Argentina, will see the Springboks hoping to continue their revival following 2016's annus horribilis, having cruised to a 3-0 series win over France back in June.

Australia v New Zealand,live, Sky Sports Action, 11.0am

Sth Africa v Argentina, 4.05pm

Irish Independent

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