Conrad Smith may face Hurricanes

Conrad Smith at an All Blacks training session at the end of last year. Photo: Getty Images
Conrad Smith at an All Blacks training session at the end of last year. Photo: Getty Images
Conrad Smith never envisioned opposing the Hurricanes, his home franchise for so long. Now the reality of that situation has him a tad daunted.

When the classy centre retired from the test arena two years ago after 94 caps and successive World Cup crowns, playing in the southern hemisphere again was firmly off the table. Or so he thought.

But with French club Pau signing on to take part in next year's Brisbane Global Tens, among other things Smith is now contemplating the prospect of marking former Hurricanes and All Blacks team-mate Julian Savea.

"It was probably the last thing on my mind when I went to play in France," Smith said.

"I remember in New Zealand saying how lucky I was to play alongside these guys the Hurricanes had and how I never had to play them. Now I'm going to eat my words... I might have to sit that game out. When the opportunity comes I'm sure I'll enjoy it - they'll go easy on me.

"I don't know if running around chasing Super Rugby teams will be a whole lot of fun in the heat of Brisbane. We'll be in the thick of winter so it will be a change of game-plan for us. I'm sure once we're there and close to home it'll be a good chance to see family and friends."

Smith turns 36 next month, but he will accompany fellow former All Blacks Colin Slade, Tom Taylor, Jamie MacKintosh and Benson Stanley to Brisbane. For someone in their vintage years, tens is much more appealing than other abbreviated formats.

"That was the commitment from the club and to be honest most of the Kiwi boys jumped at a chance like this. For the spectators it's a bit of a party but there will be some good rugby played so it should be a good occasion.

"From what I saw of it last year it's a good concept. I loved playing tens when I was a youngster and I enjoyed it a lot more than sevens which was a little bit too frenetic for me. Tens still has some structure."

Smith hasn't missed playing for the All Blacks but does enjoy tuning in as a spectator.

After the departure of so many veterans he was amazed by the standard set last year but after spending two days with the team in Paris ahead of their final end of year tour match he had an inkling this season would be a different story.

This period the All Blacks are now battling through reminds Smith a lot of post 2007 - a time when a similar exodus allowed him to first establish his starting presence.

The rebuilding All Blacks of 2008 won 14 of 16 games - losing to the Wallabies in Sydney and Springboks in Dunedin - only to go 10 from 15 and lose three times to the Boks the following year.

"Talking to the All Blacks last year I knew this year would be tough for a lot of reasons - all the rest of the world would be targeting them and it would be hard to maintain that standard.

"They're going through that, but they'll be fine. I'm encouraged by what I've seen; the amount of players coming through and the way they're responding to the pressure it's going to be good for the individuals and the team as a whole."

Smith reserved special praise for Ryan Crotty, his successor at centre, and Anton Lienert-Brown, though he acknowledges frequent change has made establishing midfield combinations difficult.

"Crots has been outstanding. He's obviously battled with a few injuries but the way he's stepped up to take on a leadership role has been great. After a few old heads left he's filled the role perfectly.

"Guys like Anton whenever they get a chance they're making the most of it. That's all you want. Ideally there'll be time for a partnership to settle but it's hard to pick at the moment. That'll come with time."

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