All Blacks lose centre Smith

McCawNew Zealand have lost experienced centre Conrad Smith ahead of their Bledisloe Cup clash with old rivals Australia on Saturday (Australia 13/8, draw 20/1, New Zealand 1/2 – Match Betting).

The Hurricanes star is awaiting the birth of his first child and will not make the trip to Sydney for the All Blacks’ opening game of the 2014 Rugby Championship.

It is a blow to head coach Steve Hansen who has been a big admirer of the 32-year-old since he took charge of the national side from Graham Henry in 2011.

The absence of Smith will see Malakai Fekitoa come in to the All Blacks’ starting XV, while Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty has been called up as cover and will be hoping to add to his six caps.

Although the loss of Smith is significant, Fekitoa has been a significant find for Hansen following some impressive performances with the Highlanders in Super Rugby last season.

The highly-rated 22-year-old earned his first two caps with New Zealand (1/2 – Rugby Championship outright) over the summer in the Test series against England and certainly did not look out of place on the international stage.

Having experienced centre Ma’a Nonu, who he played alongside against the English, will also help Fekitoa for the biggest game of his fledgling international career so far against the Wallabies.

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