All Blacks scrumhalf Smith banned over incident at airport

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All Blacks' Aaron Smith in action.

All Blacks' Aaron Smith in action. (Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith will miss Saturday's test against South Africa and return to New Zealand after team management suspended him over an encounter with a "female friend" in an airport toilet cubicle.

The ban was imposed when team management learned, on arrival in South Africa, that a member of the public had complained about the incident at Christchurch airport on Sept. 17, the day after New Zealand's 41-13 home win over South Africa.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Smith admitted the details of the incident and asked to return home to deal with "personal matters." Smith is in a relationship.

"Clearly Aaron is bitterly disappointed in his behavior and feels he has let the team down, but just as importantly he feels bitterly disappointed in letting his family and his partner down," Hansen said.

Smith's behavior was made public on Wednesday in a letter to the New Zealand Herald newspaper from a man who said he was at Christchurch Airport with his wife and children.

Smith had been expected to play in Saturday's test at Durban after being rested for last weekend's test against Argentina. He has played 54 tests for New Zealand since his debut in 2012.

That same year he was benched for a test against South Africa after breaking a team curfew. In 2014 he sent a naked picture of himself on a social networking app which was captured by other users and widely circulated.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said Smith would face a misconduct hearing on his return to New Zealand.

"This was really bad decision-making by Aaron which reflects poorly on him and on the team," Tew said.

"We are taking action to improve the culture of our game and are about to embark on an independent review of respect and responsibility in our professional player environment. We have drafted the terms of reference and are currently talking to prospective panel members."

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