New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith on Thursday heaped praise on Jimmy Cowan, who has battled back from drink and disciplinary problems to become the All Blacks’ first-choice scrumhalf.

Cowan, who in July was ordered to give up drinking or face the axe after a series of disorderly behaviour charges, has been a mainstay ever since as New Zealand successfully defended their Tri-Nations title.

Smith said Cowan had shown “tremendous” resolve, especially after July’s Tri-Nations match in Sydney when both he and fellow scrumhalf Andy Ellis were carrying injuries.

“Obviously he had some issues publicly and after Sydney we had both half-backs not right to play. The amazing thing was, on the Thursday both of them were full-bore into training,” Smith said.

“We made the decision that Jimmy was probably more right than Andy.

I’ve just got such huge admiration for him. I think he’s shown a lot of guts.” In July, Cowan was told to stop drinking and get counselling for alcohol abuse after racking up three disorderly behaviour charges in just three months.

The 26-year-old will start against Australia in the first Bledisloe Cup match on neutral soil in Hong Kong on Saturday.

“I think he took a view he wanted to repay the faith people had in him. He just puts it all on the track,” Smith said.