No number, no problem for Hurricanes' Smith
Conrad Smith's trademark accuracy was no match for the emotion of his 100th match as the Hurricanes captain ran on to Westpac Stadium in the wrong jersey.
After holding a mortgage on the Hurricanes No 13 jersey for most of the past decade, Smith emerged from the tunnel before Saturday's 60-27 win over the Cheetahs with no number on his back.
"Absolute blooper," the 32-year-old said after the match. "I got presented with my jersey and I was that keen to play I just threw it on, but it was actually a presentation jersey and the one I was supposed to be wearing was hanging in my locker."
He could be excused a moment or two at the end of a highly charged week that ended with his father ,Trevor, making a surprise appearance in the changing rooms to present his son's jersey.
Smith was blissfully unaware of his mistake until halftime and admitted the occasion got to him despite his best efforts to the contrary.
"It was worse than my debut in terms of the messages before the game. I couldn't keep up trying to reply to them all. Emails and text messages, things like that," he said after being presented enveloped by relatives including a gaggle of nieces in "Uncle Conrad" T-shirts.
"When you are playing you don't get too many opportunities to step away and reflect on it [your career] and the [100th cap] sort of forced me to.
"It was a tad emotional looking back and seeing where I'd come from and hearing from a lot of guys I've known for a long time and knew me as a little varsity kid who first came down to Wellington and what it's turned into.
"That made it tough to keep focused on the game, it was humbling and at times it was hard concentrating during the game.
"It certainly wasn't the best game I've played, but I knew the guys were up for it and they carried us through."
In fact, Smith's performance was top drawer, befitting of the banner in the crowd reading "Go Conrad, 100 not out", a poke at his love for cricket.
Several perfectly timed defensive stops and some textbook draw and pass play were topped by a popular try, his 29th in Super Rugby, that had the crowd on their feet as the Hurricanes brought up 50 points.
Many of the 8165 in the stands stayed behind to show their appreciation for a player who has won over fans with his courage and consistency since his debut in 2004.
Smith told the crowd he'd been happy with his lot after one match for his club side Old Boys University, let alone 100 for the Hurricanes.
And in typical fashion he said the win over the Cheetahs had been more important than his milestone.
"It's nice hearing the talk after the game with a lot of the guys saying that [we can build on this]. We've got a couple of tests on the road now, a couple of New Zealand teams which I think is good.
"We haven't played a Kiwi team yet and the guys always say there's a bit more edge to those games and I think we're ready for that.
"The Highlanders have started strongly, the Crusaders are a great side, so we'll have two good games to gauge how we're going."
The Dominion Post