Balancing the books and replacing the Accountant: who can replace Ben Smith after the World Cup?

Balancing the books and replacing the Accountant: who can replace Ben Smith after the World Cup?

The Highlanders and All Blacks will lose one of their most consistent performers after the Rugby World Cup with the always reliable Ben Smith bringing the curtain down on his test and Super Rugby career by signing a deal with French Top 14 side Pau.

Smith has been one of the most consistent performers in World Rugby over the past few years and earning 76 test caps for his country and has made over 150 appearances for the Highlanders.

The man nicknamed 'Ben from Accounts' will be one of the most difficult players to replace in the All Blacks line up despite the number of players leaving the country and ending their test careers.

Despite being viewed as one of the best fullbacks in the game, Smith has featured more regularly on the wing for the All Blacks and his versatility will be extremely difficult to replace.

The All Blacks have found plenty of success playing a fullback on the wing and the trend is likely to continue despite Steve Hansen's departure after the World Cup.

Here are our candidates to replace All Black legend:

Will Jordan - Crusaders (21 years old)

Will Jordan was set to debut in Super Rugby in 2018 but an injury saw him miss the entire competition but he has certainly made up for last time scoring 8 tries in 8 appearances as the Crusaders soared to the top of the Super Rugby table.

The young outside back is a like-for-like replacement for Smith with his ability to play on the wing and at fullback. Jordan is one of the most promising talents in New Zealand at the moment, which says something in itself, and will likely make his All Blacks debut in the near future, with some even tipping him as an All Black bolter for the World Cup.

George Bridge - Crusaders (24 years old)

New Zealand have another quality operator in George Bridge, who like Jordan, plies his trade with the Crusaders. Similar to Jordan, Bridge can play on either wing as well as fullback and made his test debut against Japan last year.

Bridge was in terrific form in 2018 scoring 15 tries as the Crusaders went on to defend their Super Rugby title. Bridge also ticks all the boxes for the All Blacks, he is secure under the high ball, lethal on the counter-attacking and solid defender. 

Damian McKenzie - Chiefs (24 years old)

Firmly rooted in the All Blacks set up already, McKenzie will only miss the Rugby World Cup through injury. McKenzie is likely to be the go to man for the All Blacks #15 jersey after the World Cup having ended 2018 as the All Blacks first choice in the position.

However, McKenzie is a very different player to Ben Smith and is far from a like for like replacement for Smith. McKenzie is more of a playmaking fullback and although he has the skills to play on the wing he is more suited at fullback and flyhalf.

As long as McKenzie stays in New Zealand he will remain in the setup. 

Kalyn Ponga - Rugby League side Newcastle Knights (21 years old)

Far from a shot in the dark with rugby league superstar Kalyn Ponga set to come off contract in 2021 and could be tempted to make the code switch.

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika did speak to the league star over a possible move for a Wallabies jersey but the Knights' back has expressed his long-term ambitions to represent the All Blacks.

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Ponga is incredibly talented and if he were to switch codes and chase an All Black jersey he could be a terrific replacement for Smith albeit two years after the World Cup.

The 21-year-old has a stellar sidestep, great hands and was a standout when he played school rugby. 

See some of his highlights here

Solomon Alaimalo - Chiefs (23 years old) 

The Chiefs man has not been given a chance with the All Blacks just yet but his consistent performances for the Waikato-based side could see him get a look in after the World Cup.

Alaimalo has featured on the wing and fullback for the side and like most of the players mentioned he has a lovely step, good boot and solid in the air.

His teammate Shaun Stevenson could also be in the mix after the showpiece in Japan.

Josh McKay - Highlanders (21 years old)

The man likely to wear the Highlanders 15 jersey for some time following Smith's departure. McKay has impressed when given the opportunity scoring an impressive brace against the Bulls this Super Rugby season.

McKay is quite versatile as he started his career as a flyhalf before moving onto the wing for Canterbury and fullback for the Highlanders.

2020 might be a bit soon for the Highlanders' man to make his test debut but he is rapidly improving and the return of Tony Brown to the Highlanders coaching staff will certainly do him no harm.

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