Rugby World Cup: All Blacks veteran Aaron Smith relieved to have 'another Monday' in black jersey with win over Ireland

Amid the celebrations around Stade De France, one All Blacks veteran allowed himself some relief that his indiscretions hadn't cost his team more dearly against the world's hottest rugby team in recent years.

Halfback Aaron Smith was still on the field for the final whistle - and far beyond - part of a defensive effort that repelled the Ireland assault for 38 phases, before finally killing the ball and their rivals' hopes of progressing to a World Cup semi-final.

His presence at the end left the controversial selection of Finlay Christie over Cam Roigard as his back-up largely academic, as Christie never got the chance to add to his 19 test caps off the bench.

Aaron Smith celebrates World Cup victory over Ireland.
Aaron Smith celebrates World Cup victory over Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images

Smith, 34, was well rested to go the distance, after copping a yellow card in the first half for intentionally knocking down an Irish pass, and while he served his penance, counterpart Jamison Gibson-Park darted over for a try that brought his team within a point at halftime. 

The most-capped All Blacks back was understandably sheepish over his lapse in discipline.

"It was a reaction," said Smith. "Slow-mo didn't look good.

"I've played enough to know that doesn't look good and on the world stage like that, you go sit on the naughty chair for 10 minutes, but I just loved how the boys handled that.

"They scored a try, but we still had the one-point lead and we still had a one-point lead when I came back on.  

"I just really wanted to do my job, and I had no fear or any worries after that, because I had already made the biggest mistake you can that cost your team 10 minutes and 14 men.

"I came back out and just wanted to dig in, give it everything, and to be trusted to stay out there for 80 minutes - well, 70 minutes - was really nice. I was able to execute some key moments and help the boys."

Discipline has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, since a red card to lock Scott Barrett cost the All Blacks dearly in their record pre-tournament defeat to South Africa. Winger Will Jordan saw yellow, after a clumsy midair challenge against France, while prop Ethan de Groot served a two-game suspension for his high tackle against Namibia.

Against Ireland, hooker Codie Taylor also served time on the sideline, collapsing a lineout maul on his goal-line to concede a penalty try that again brought their rivals within a point with 16 minutes left. 

Smith was perhaps a little fortunate to avoid another yellow card late, when he reached high to intercept a looping pass along the Irish backline, but was able to gather the ball cleanly, without risking another deliberate knockon deliberation.  

Victory earns him at least another two weeks in the black jersey, before he departs for an offshore contract with Japanese club Toyota. Even if they lose to Argentina in the semis, New Zealand would have to stick around to contest a dreaded bronze-medal playoff in two weeks.

"When you play playoff rugby, Monday is the best day of the week, if you can earn one," he said. "We've earnt another Monday and that is so amazing.

"I don't think any of the boys or the management were looking past tonight. We all knew, on Saturday at midnight, we'd know where we were at- we're either on a plane in two days, or we get to reset, jump back on the wave and prepare to play next week.

"That's the best feeling as a rugby player – we get another Monday and another chance to get better and try taking another step." 

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