WELLINGTON All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith has said he should have taken time away from rugby as he battled with the embarrassing fallout from a tryst with a woman in an airport toilet last year.
Smith was suspended for one test, voluntarily stood down for another and received an official warning from New Zealand Rugby last October following revelations of a liaison in a disabled toilet at Christchurch Airport.
He returned to the team for the Ireland clash in Chicago in November and also played against Italy in Rome, Ireland in Dublin and France in Paris.
He was off his best, however, and Smith said the controversy had taken its toll on and off the field.
"It was a huge mistake by me, obviously," he told reporters on Monday.
"Just the effects it had on me mentally -- it really affected me and my performance. The way it hurt my family and my partner and myself, obviously, it was just a really tough time.
"I probably should have put rugby on the backburner then and focussed on myself and my family."
Smith will play his 100th match for Super Rugby side Otago Highlanders against the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
While he is yet to return to the level that led British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland to call him the best player in the world last year, Smith felt he was gradually working his way back.
"I think a lot of positives have come from that incident for me, personally, on the field and off field," the 28-year-old said.
"I've had heaps of help. I've done a lot of counselling and sought out the right people. But also from incidents like that you learn who your real friends are. It puts everything in perspective.
"I'm just really excited about this year and I think it's finally coming out in my game."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ian Ransom)