Conrad Smith officially out of Bledisloe test

MARC HINTON IN SYDNEY
Last updated 11:54 16/08/2014
Malakai Fekitoa
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
DANGEROUS DUO: Ma'a Nonu, left, and Malakai Fekitoa will form an explosive midfield combination for the All Blacks in tonight's Bledisloe Cup opener.

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It's official. All Blacks rookie Malakai Fekitoa will start at centre tonight against the Wallabies with veteran midielder Conrad Smith remaining in New Zealand.

Smith made a late dash back across the Tasman on Friday to be with wife Lee-Anne who is having their first child.

Coach Steve Hansen confirmed it looked like the baby was going to arrive ahead of schedule.

"Lee's been due to have a baby in a couple of week's time but it looks like she's going to come a little bit early," Hansen explained.

The All Blacks today confirmed that Smith would not return to Sydney to play in the Bledisloe and Rugby Championship opener at Sydney's Olympic stadium tonight.

They had left the door open for Smith to make a last-gasp return should circumstances permit, but that is now clearly not the case.

An All Blacks spokesman said today there was no update on whether the baby had arrived.

The 22-year-old Fekitoa now readies for the biggest moment of his young test career.

He made two appearances in June against England, including an impressive start at No 13 in the final test in Hamilton.

Both Hansen and skipper Richie McCaw have emphatically endorsed the powerful Highlanders player's readiness for his Rugby Championship debut, and Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper added his voice to that chorus.  

"Fekitoa had a cracking year with the Highlanders. Conrad's obviously a seasoned veteran there. They're both quality players," Hooper said.

"For us, I guess we understand it's a new player so you've got to try out those areas and see what you can do."

The Fekitoa-Ma'a Nonu midfield combination has excitement written all over it, though the youngster will be have to be on his toes as he goes head to head with outstanding Australian centre Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Tonight's first Bledisloe kicks off at 10.05pm (NZT). A win would not only continue the All Blacks' dominance of their trans-Tasman rivals, but give them a record 18th consecutive test victory.

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