Smith relaxed before taking centre stage


NZPA     10 Nov 2006     Fotopress

The silky Wellingtonian becomes the fifth player tried in the No 13 jersey this year when he runs out to face France at Lyon on Sunday morning (NZT).

His supporters hope the buck will stop with the 25-year-old for the rest of this tour and beyond to the World Cup.

However, All Blacks backline coach Wayne Smith has said first choice Tri-Nations option Mils Muliaina remains in the frame and has also been staunch in his praise this week of Ma'a Nonu's performance against England last weekend.

"The challenge has been laid down. 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."

Smith (Conrad) the player shaped up as a logical successor to the retired Tana Umaga before breaking his lower leg early in the Rebel Sport Super 14.

He has kept his emotions in check this week, not wanting to consider the ramifications of his performance in the race to fill the centre berth.

"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 said.

"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."

Simply being on this tour had been the goal during his six months of rehabilitation and he didn't want to look further than this weekend, despite the All Blacks coaches looking to settle on their top team for the second French Test in Paris next week and the tour finale against Wales a week later.

Smith's second Test was the All Blacks' 45-6 hammering of France in Paris two years ago. He got a dream ride that evening and was aware he had yet to face the real France, something anticipated on Sunday.

"I was still pretty new to the scene and it just blew me away, the whole hype surrounding the game," he said.

"You get a taste of that and you want it to continue I guess.

"I feel a little bit more experienced and hopefully I can handle the pre-match hype a little bit better."

Smith lines up outside Luke McAlister, forming the 10th different starting combination in New Zealand's last 13 Tests.

The pair confront French stars Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz, considered the hosts' key attacking weapons.

Smith had little knowledge of them before leaving New Zealand but had studied enough video footage to know he was in for testing night.

"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 had faith in McAlister's ability to fill the playmaking role 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 bit contribution, someone to look in front of him and make the calls," Wayne Smith said.

"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 their are a lot of teams in the world who would be really happy to have him as a starting player."

The All Blacks practised without incident for the final time in Marseille this morning before a two-hour bullet train ride to Lyon.

They won't get access to the Stade de Gerland Test venue until the morning of the game as it is being used for a Ligue 1 soccer match tomorrow between hosts Olympique Lyonnais and Valenciennes.

Kickoff is late on Saturday night at 9pm (Sunday 9am NZT).