ABs' centre of excellence endorses Ben Smith

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 08/09/2013
Conrad Smith Ben Smith
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SMITH AND SMITH: Conrad Smith (right) hugs Ben Smith after he scored against Ireland last season. Ben Smith could switch to centre for the All Blacks' November tour, with Conrad Smith set to take a break.

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Veteran centre Conrad Smith says he's confident the All Blacks will ultimately be strengthened by his looming late-season sabbatical that's got coach Steve Hansen already pondering his options.

The 31-year-old is in countdown mode as he heads towards a well-earned rest at the end of this Rugby Championship. That will see Hansen needing to find a new No 13, probably for the third Bledisloe in Dunedin on October 19, and definitely the subsequent four tests on their November tour.

Popular opinion has the versatile Ben Smith moving from the right wing to fill the void left by his namesake at centre - a situation made even more logical by the imminent return of Cory Jane.

Conrad Smith said ahead of last night's test in Hamilton that a succession plan was finally being discussed within the All Blacks.

"Steve brought it up a couple of times only this week, and it's something maybe over the next few weeks we'll look at," he said.

"The whole idea is [the sabbatical] will benefit the team ultimately, the same way when we had Richie [McCaw] away I think we really grew as a team.

"It was tough dealing with a player of his experience going, but when you deal with it, then he comes back, it's massive for a side. I think [my break] can serve the same purpose."

Smith fully endorses the skills of Ben Smith to fill the position, if that's what Hansen decides. But he also has some words of warning regarding his namesake's potential shift in position.

"It will be a big change, and I don't think it's as easy as some people think," he said. "Defensively there are things you have to adjust to, and the attacking opportunities are quite different. You've got to wait for what's created inside you, whereas wingers like to strike from counter-attack, and that's what he's so good at.

"He's still pretty new to wing and I think that's why we've been keen to give him time to sort that position out.

"He's got it all. It will be a big shift, but I'm more than happy and keen to help him make that."

Smith said having the finishing line in view was putting a spring in his step this Rugby Championship.

"It's pretty motivating. It's served me well, and has kept me really up because I want to leave on a good note. I'm almost feeling like I'm going miss it when I go, but that will be a good thing I think."

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