Super Rugby Pacific: Halfback Aaron Smith makes good on incentive offer for Highlanders pack

Cheeky All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith has struck on a novel - and surprising - incentive scheme to extract the best from his Highlanders forward pack in Super Rugby Pacific.

After kicking off their 2023 campaign with three straight defeats - including record scorelines against the Blues and Crusaders - the southerners have overcome a heavy injury toll to rattle up three consecutive wins to resurrect their playoff chances.

A feature of their renaissance has been the improved play of their forwards, anchored by All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot and former Australian international front-rower Jermaine Ainsley.

Smith may have found the right button to push, during their impressive 45-17 romp over Moana Pasifika.

"Yeah, so against Moana, at a specific scrum, he said, "We'll buy you milkshakes, if you get a penalty'," recounted Ainsley.

"He came into our unit's meeting on Monday with milkshakes and said, 'Here you go, boys, I'm a man of my word'. Everyone was pretty happy, all the forwards had a milkshake... it was good."

Maybe it's a sign of the times that the hardmen of the south didn't demand a slightly stronger liquid refreshment as reward, but Smith may need to dig a little deeper into his pockets this week against the Hurricanes.

"Hopefully, a full breakfast, I reckon," suggested Ainsley. "And dessert maybe."  

De Groot has re-signed with NZ Rugby and the Highlanders through to the end of 2026.

Marino Mikaele-Tuu in action against Moana Pasifika
Marino Mikaele-Tuu in action against Moana Pasifika. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Pretty easy decision to stay in New Zealand," he admitted. "Didn't even look to go anywhere else.

"I'm always grateful to wear the Highlanders jersey, week in and week out. I never thought I'd be a Highlander or reach as high as I have.

"I still pinch myself everyday, when I rock up and get to catch balls from Aaron Smith. I'm stoked"

Join Newshub at 7pm Saturday for live updates of the Highlanders v Hurricanes Super Rugby Pacific clash