All Blacks workload a grind says Smith
Conrad Smith won't know until Sunday whether he has pushed his bashed-up body one step too far.
But he has voiced concern over the number of matches senior All Blacks are being asked to play in the calendar year ahead of the final test of the season.
"Combined Super rugby and All Black calendar now I wouldn't want to be playing too much more," the 31-year-old said yesterday. "I've played maybe 26 games this year and I think the right number might be a little bit less than that."
The Hurricanes captain is among a group of senior All Blacks to have churned out a heavy workload this year, including Super Rugby, the June test series against Ireland, an expanded Rugby Championship, and now an end-of-year tour.
"Playing every game of Super Rugby probably didn't help [me]," Smith said. "But all players struggled during the year. I don't think you'll ever see a player that plays to their best the whole way through the 10 months that we currently play so that's a challenge for us."
His comments come five days before the All Blacks' 14th and final test of the season.
It raises questions about the sustainability of a season that is pushing the top players to the brink, including captain Richie McCaw, who will take a six-month break to recharge his batteries, starting on Monday.
The All Blacks have not played significantly more tests than previous seasons, three shy of the 15 in 2008 and 2009, and Smith has taken part in only 10 this year.
However, he said the issue of workload was less about test matches and more about the grind of Super Rugby, which kicks off again in late February. "In terms of the All Blacks stuff the way it's set up, especially with the Rugby Championship with two weeks on and then having a break, it's actually easier comparatively to Super Rugby," he said.
Team-mate Cory Jane agreed.
"With Super Rugby it's a bit of a grind, but we've had the week off with the championship and a bit of time to refresh and get ready to play the game again.
"There is a lot of rugby but I can't say playing for this All Black team or travelling around with the All Blacks is too bloody hard."
The selectors could take fatigue into account when they name the side to play England.
But assistant coach Ian Foster said the main criterion was always who could implement the gameplan the All Blacks wanted to play.
"You're trying to prepare everyone to play against everyone," he said when asked if changes would be made to counter England's style.
"We're not going to be making a selection decision this week based on who we're playing. It's probably more on who best can execute our game."
AT A GLANCE
Most heavily used All Blacks of 2012: 13 tests: Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks 12 tests: Aaron Smith, Tony Woodcock, Israel Dagg, Richie McCaw, Andrew Hore, Piri Weepu, Brodie Retallick