Conrad Smith out, Fekitoa in for Bledisloe test
The All Blacks' preparations for tomorrow night's Bledisloe Cup test with the Wallabies struck a pregnant pause in Sydney early this morning with Conrad Smith boarding a flight to Wellington to witness the birth of his first child.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen received a call at 2am indicating Smith and his wife Lee-Anne were likely to become parents two weeks ahead of schedule and arrangements were quickly made to get the 77-cap centre back to the capital.
Smith could potentially return to Sydney in time to play the Rugby Championship opener at ANZ Stadium though Malakai Fekitoa is expected to start at centre.
While Smith was heading home, Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty was flying in the opposite direction to join the bench.
"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.
"Hopefully everything goes well, and if it goes really well he could possibly be back. We're not holding our breath on that."
Smith would have to be back with the team by 2pm tomorrow (local time) - six hours before kick-off - to return to the starting line-up and Hansen admitted that was unlikely.
"There's a whole lot of things that would have to happen. Everything over there would have to be great and he'd have to be mentally in tune and then we'd have to get back here.
"We're not worried about that at the moment. We're just hoping everything goes well for them.
"It's an exciting time for one our team members and his wife and their family. I think back to the birth of my own children, it's just the way it is and we'll get on with it."
Hansen is confident the team will cope with the unexpected disruption and that the blockbusting Fekitoa will handle what will be his third test.
"Malakai's started the last test match (against England in June) so he'll be fine. I'm sure Ryan Crotty is pretty excited about getting on a plane at the moment."
Fekitoa will mark 94-cap veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, a task Hansen is sure the 22-year-old will handle.
"It was a pretty big challenge last time too against England. We've got every faith in him, he'll be fine.
"The game won't be won out there, it'll be won up front. If we do things right up front them it'll be easy for him," Hansen said.
The All Blacks complete their preparations with a brief captain's run at the test venue today while the Wallabies have their final training session in North Sydney.