Aaron Smith will keep a promise he made to himself four years ago when he runs onto Millennium Stadium for the first time.
The Manawatu halfback struck a chirpy figure today as he shrugged off any concerns about his injured knee after being named in the All Blacks side to play Wales on Sunday (NZT).
And he said his twelfth test would be a poignant one on what is his second visit to Cardiff.
"I remember growing up as a kid when the stadium was being built and seeing the atmosphere and how it sounded, and how amazing it looked [on TV]," he said. "I was lucky enough to come here in 2008 with the [New Zealand] under 20s and... do a bit of a tour and my love of the stadium really grew.
"I said to myself a bit cheekily when we went there, 'One day I'm going to play here in an All Black jersey'. So I'm definitely very excited about this weekend... 80,000-odd people with a roof on top should make for a great night."
The under 20s played that year on the neighbouring Cardiff Arms Park and Smith played second fiddle to Grayson Hart as the Kiwis won the junior world title.
But the anecdote summarises part of the reason the All Blacks selectors are such big fans of a 23-year-old who backs himself and isn't fazed by the big occasion.
That said there is little doubt Smith's place is under real pressure for the first time in his short test career.
Up until Weepu awoke from his 2012 slumber against Scotland two weeks ago, it was Smith first, daylight second, in terms of who was the preferred All Blacks No 9.
And, while most would have been shocked had coach Steve Hansen turned the pecking order on its head after one Weepu blinder, Smith said he'd felt that pressure all year on the training paddock.
"The way he is around the boys, he's a pretty good operator... he can just slot in off the bat. He may not get as many runs at training, but he gets in there and does it well every time. The way he's played this year, I reckon he's played pretty well.
"He's a class performer and 60-plus tests you can't say much more than that as an All Black. I have huge respect for him."
For now though its still Smith's gig as he looks to round off one of the best rookie test seasons in recent memory.
He believes last weekend's flattering 42-10 win in Rome was another valuable learning experience.
"They're the games you want to play, you get tested a lot and you learn a lot about yourself in those kinds of performances compared to the ones where you do fairly well," he said.
Doing the basics right, being clear-minded and getting to the rucks as quickly as possible and making good decisions were his focuses this week.
Surprisingly, Smith, who has been listed at just 80kg this season, revealed he'd packed on a bit of weight since his debut against Ireland in June.
"I think that's been my little secret weapon that's helped me a lot. Nick Gill has been out this world for me getting me a little zippier, a little stronger in contact and obviously I've put on a little more weight since I first donned the jersey," he said.
"Then getting along with the nutritionist to shed the extra fat I had. I've been carrying a little extra Maori chub... it was good to shed that."
Meanwhile, Wales have suffered a blow with big wing George North pulling out of the side after injuring his hip in training. He has been replaced by 21-year-old Scarlets fullback Liam Williams, who has just one test cap to his name.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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