Concern for Conrad Smith's health has eased as the Hurricanes turn their attention toward resuscitating their Super Rugby season's ailing health.
Coach Mark Hammett said yesterday that the 24 hours after Sunday's loss to the Bulls had largely focused on the well-being of his captain after he suffered a serious concussion.
So there was a collective sigh of relief through the squad over the past two days at the sight of Smith resuming normal duties, albeit away from the training pitch.
After discussing his injury with management and being given the option of flying home to New Zealand, the 31-year-old decided to remain in South Africa.
Hammett said the All Blacks centre remained a key part of the squad as they prepare to play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday morning.
They sit 11th on the ladder, whilst the Cheetahs are sixth after the bye.
Since his injury Smith has presented the team strategy at the weekly preview meeting, talked over tactics with the backs at training and led his mini-team to victory at a quiz night.
He has not reported any symptoms of head injury to team doctor Theo Dorfling and had seemed "chirpy and upbeat", Hammett said.
None of which caused him to consider his leader fit to play in the immediate future.
"He has been through a [psychometric] test and he failed the first one on Sunday straight after the game," Hammett said.
"He'll continue to be tested this week, but that will have no bearing on selection this week."
Smith would provide valuable insights for his replacement, Alapati Leiua.
"He's still the captain of the Hurricanes. He's very well respected. Obviously there's a new person filling his No 13 jersey. What better way than to have the best centre in the world helping their preparation," Hammett said.
Before he considers wearing that jersey again, Smith will need to pass a series of psychometric tests, and report with no symptoms for the necessary time period before being allowed to ease into light training.
At that point, Hammett said, any return to playing would be discussed, though he stressed it was not for him to put a timeline on when, or if, Smith would return to the field.
"That's something you'd have to ask Conrad. I posed the question if he'd talk to media about this because there was a lot of media going on.
"He said he hadn't spoken to the media and certainly hasn't considered it."
Smith was unavailable last night as he focused on his recovery.
His injury dominated the post-match to the extent the Bulls players and management made a beeline for the visitors' dressing room to inquire about his health.
But Hammett can ill-afford to linger too long as he looks toward the Cheetahs and a chance to right a listing, but not doomed ship.
The set piece has come in for close scrutiny, but Hammett hinted that a greater respect for possession was the biggest learning.
"We lost a few lineouts. Certainly our ball was messier than we wanted it to be, but after those first three scrums I thought we scrummed very well.
"Unfortunately, like most of the night we struggled to hold onto ball and the first 20 minutes was hard for everyone to look through.
"It was well below the standard we expect of this team. It was a pretty honest and tough review to go through and it would be fair to say I was the most animated I've been since I've been at the Hurricanes.
"But what we have got is an extremely good character in this side and I know nobody went out to put in a performance as we put out. We're pretty keen to get out on the park and put that right."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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