Aaron Smith on a burning desire to fix 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat and signing off on a high

Aaron Smith scored in New Zealand's comfortable semi-final win against Argentina on Friday
©Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Aaron Smith knows he has one last dance to dance. The New Zealand scrum-half finds himself in another World Cup final and this will be his last week as an All Black.

"Yeah, it is [my] last dance and I am grateful," said Smith on Friday night following New Zealand's 44-6 semi-final success over Argentina.

"It is a real week that means so much and it has been surreal the whole tournament, the whole year to be honest. It has been about getting to this week, getting to this game [the final] and we are in it.

"Knowing that it is my last week, I knew it was going to come to an end. I think the silver lining for me is I got to control how I went out. I obviously have signed elsewhere next year [moving to Japan to play his club rugby for Toyota Verblitz] but I wanted to make sure this year I had no regrets.

"I am just blessed I am trusted by the coaches and the boys to play and I pray to be standing here talking to you next week."

And he hopes to be doing so with another winner's medal around his neck.

Smith, 34, knows what both sides of the coin look like. An integral part of an All Blacks side which sealed back-to-back titles in 2015, the Kiwi centurion also experienced heartbreak when New Zealand were well beaten by England in the semi-finals four years ago.

And it is that loss in 2019 which fuelled his fire for this World Cup.

"You can only control so much as a player but that is why I am here now because I had a burning desire to fix that [2019], Smith says. "I was sitting there on 78 minutes [in their semi-final win against the Pumas] going 'we have taken another step further than last time.'

"We have got another week and it is a real week going for another final and not a third and fourth [the bronze final]. I had no regrets coming off tonight because that was the worst thing in 2019 was we missed an opportunity. 

"I don't think you ever get over it, to be honest. It sticks with you forever. It has been a good driver for me. I am an emotional person. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I use stuff like that to motivate me. There is no way I would be here, 34 years old, if I didn't have that burning desire to do better and be a better player and this is what you play sport for.

"It is to put yourself in opportunities that are hard so for me walking off that field in 2019 or leaving Japan, I had a burning desire to go; 'If I can be disciplined, set goals, stay focused, I can try and make another World Cup' and then the last two steps we have taken have given us a chance to make a final which is one better than last time. That is so awesome."

When Smith tasted World Cup glory back in 2015, it was also the 'last dance' for many of his teammates. Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nou, Conrad Smith, Tony Woodcock and Kevin Mealamu all bowed out at Twickenham and eight years on, Smith is craving a similar, victorious send off.

"I remember the moment [2015] pretty quickly," Smith says with a smile. "They had a photo together, that group. I was just a young pup then. I was like; 'that's cool!' I took a photo of them as I sort of still idolised them and they were my teammates but I knew that was a very special group. It is what you dream of to play in these games. 

"I remember this feeling this time four years ago. Disappointment, gutted and feeling like you have let the country down as well.

"To be in this position, to contend for a World Cup is just so special but all of that doesn't count for anything now. We have taken another step in this tournament and we are in the big dance and that is so exciting and so energising for our young team. We just have to get our bodies and minds right and get excited about an awesome week to contend for the World Cup."