Smith’s the great Black hope

Conrad Smith is the latest in a string of players New Zealand hope will fill the troublesome role of outside centre.

Smith will become the fifth player tried in the No 13 jersey in 2006 when he faces France in Lyon on Saturday.

But the easy going Hurricanes player said he felt no pressure to rekindle the form that had pundits calling him the finest No 13 in the game before he broke his leg early in Vodacom Super 14.

“I could easily over-complicate this game and think about all the what-ifs and how long I’ve been waiting for this chance,” Smith told the Herald.

“But I just have to concentrate on enjoying this game and hopefully I can play well and let the other things take care of themselves.”

All Black backline coach Wayne Smith was guarded about whether Smith would be their first choice option in the Tests to come and indeed into the World Cup, saying that he was impressed with the performances of Mils Muliaina and Ma’a Nonu in the position recently.

“The challenge has been laid down,” he asserted. “Conrad gets his opportunity and we know what Mils can do. We’re in a good position there,” Wayne Smith said.

“He gets one shot just like everyone else. Test rugby’s about putting it on the track when you get your chance.”

The 25-year-old, 6-cap centre will be partnered by 10-cap Luke McCallister and will face French stars Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz, who are considered the hosts’ key attacking weapons.

“They’re classic French players. They’ve got that flair to cut a backline to pieces and are very good at setting up their outsides,” he said.

“It’ll be dangerous for myself and Lukey, who are pretty inexperienced, but I think we’re ready for a challenge like that.”

Wayne Smith said he felt McAlister had the aptitude to fill the berth in place of first-choice No 12 Aaron Mauger.

“It’s a step up for Luke to that organisation role. Second receiver is an important position for us, from broken play in particular. We require quite a contribution, someone to look in front of him and make the calls.”

Wayne Smith said the All Blacks were the envy of many teams by having a player as versatile as McAlister at their disposal.

“We know he’s up to Test level as a 10 and we’ve ticked the box at 12 as well.

“He’s a world class player in two positions and I think there are a lot of teams in the world who would be really happy to have him as a starting player.”

Centres head to head

Yannick Jauzion

Height: 1.93m
Weight: 101kg
Caps: 34
Tries: 12
Points: 63

Florian Fritz

Height: 1.80m
Weight: 97kg
Caps: 9
Tries: 2
Points: 13

Conrad Smith

Height: 1.85m
Weight: 95kg
Caps: 6
Tries: 2
Points: 10

Luke McAlister

Height: 1.80m
Weight: 96kg
Caps: 6
Tries: 3
Points: 72