Rugby World Cup 2019: All Blacks Ben Smith lost his self belief, says coach Steve Hansen

The All Blacks will welcome a familiar face back into the No.15 jersey when they face Tonga in their final World Cup warm-up match in Hamilton on Saturday.

Once a first-team fixure, Ben Smith has fallen from favour in recent months. Underwhelming form in the opening three Rugby Championship games followed an injury-plagued campaign with the Highlanders, then Hansen's decision to shift Beauden Barrett to fullback pushed him out of the squad altogether for the Bledisloe rematch.

While ongoing concussion and hamstring issues have been persistent obstacles for Smith, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen thinks the root of his form dip lies up top.

"The problem… is he's lost his self-belief and his confidence," said Hansen. "Maybe that's because of the injury, maybe it's because everyone's talking about him leaving and he's got caught up in that. 

"We've stripped the paint right back. He's got good instincts and is a good rugby player."

This week, Smith will return to his preferred fullback position - a timely opportunity for the Dunedin native to recapture some of the on-field swagger that helped him become one of the world's best players.

"I want to see 'Bender' just being Bender... to trust his instincts, don't overthink things, just get out there with a big smile on his face and enjoy it.

"There's been a lot made about the fact he's lost all his form playing on the wing. That couldn't be further from the truth.

"I think we'll see a pretty good performance from him."

Hansen identified one sparkling example of a world-class player faced with a similar predicament before the 2015 tournament.

"Dan Carter was a classic example. He struggled in 2015 to the point where everyone wanted him to be dropped, except us and him, and in the France game, things just clicked and bingo, the rest is history.

"Great players will always go through a little bit of adversity and that will affect them from a confidence point of view, but they always bounce back."

Rugby World Cup 2019: All Blacks Ben Smith lost his self belief, says coach Steve Hansen

A handful of players weren't considered for selection due to minor injury niggles, including Rieko Ioane (tight calf), Sonny Bill Williams (calf strain), Sam Cane (tight hamstring), Jack Goodhue (hamstring) and Richie Mo'unga (sore shoulder).

Otherwise, Hansen insists everybody in the squad - including those above - will be in the frame for the World Cup opener against South Africa on September 21.

Mo'unga's absence will give Hansen a chance to get a glimpse at Josh Ioane, the Highlanders first-five named on the bench, after a late call-up as injury cover.

With Mo'unga the only specialist first-five named for Japan, Tonga could provide a valuable testing tool for the rookie.

"He's been with us for a while now and he's a lot more comfortable with what we're trying to do. He's a lot more comfortable in the environment."

"He's had a good week again, working hard on trying to drive the team, which is a bit overwhelming sometimes, when you're a young fella. 

"If he does get game-time, the big plus for us will be, if he's needed to come to Japan later on, he's been out there and he's done the whole lot."


Join us at 2:30pm Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Tonga clash

Essential Guide to 2019 Rugby World Cup

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The ninth Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 20 in Japan - the first time it has been hosted in Asia.