Super Rugby Aotearoa

All Blacks No 9 heaps praise on De Klerk, Pienaar: 'Old Super Rugby format was better'

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Highlanders and All Blacks star Aaron Smith ponders his options before a scrum. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)
Highlanders and All Blacks star Aaron Smith ponders his options before a scrum. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

All Blacks and Highlanders scrumhalf Aaron Smith says he misses the South African teams' involvement in Super Rugby.

New Zealand has played their own local Super Rugby Aotearoa event for the past two years and from next year look set to join Australia's five franchises and two from the Pacific islands in a new 12-team Super Rugby event.

The old Super Rugby format - which featured 16 teams, including the Jaguares from Argentina and Sunwolves from Japan - was dissolved last year during the Covid-19 pandemic.

South Africa's four teams - the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers - have since joined the PRO14 in Europe.

During a Q&A with fans on his Twitter account, Smith said he preferred Super Rugby with the South African teams involved.

"The old format is better," he responded to a question whether Super Rugby Aotearoa was a better version. "I miss touring. It was the times you really got tight as a team. Plus not much fun bashing your mates up every week."

When probed which South African scrumhalves he rated highly playing against, Smith mentioned Springboks Faf de Klerk and Ruan Pienaar.

"South Africa have great scrumhalves, but always found Faf tough to play, also had some good battles with Ruan Pienaar," Smith added.

Playing local derbies week in, week out has also had an impact on the Kiwi players' injury toll and Smith recently discussed the matter with New Zealand radio show host Martin Devlin.

"I think if you look back over time, [it] is not a coincidence. Back-to-back derbies, it's definitely got to have an impact.

"People don't get how much harder you go against your best mate. It's real. It's not like saying we don't respect the South Africans, Aussies, Jaguares, Japanese, but when you play your mate every week, the collisions, the kilometres we run, it all adds up."

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