Smith out, Fekitoa in for All Blacks

Date published: August 15 2014

All Black centre Conrad Smith has withdrawn from Saturday's fixture against Australia to return home for the birth of his child.

New Zealand centre Conrad Smith has withdrawn from Saturday's Rugby Championship opener against Australia to return home for the birth of his child, team officials said on Friday.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen received a call in the early hours of Friday morning indicating Smith's wife Leanne was likely to give birth two weeks ahead of schedule.

All Blacks management then made arrangements to get the 77-Test veteran back to Wellington to be at his wife's side during the birth of his first child.

He could still return in time for the Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney but Malakai Fekitoa is expected to start in his place, with Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty – who was travelling from Christchurch as a back-up – set to take Fekitoa's place on 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 told Fairfax Media.

“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 return to the All Blacks squad six hours before kick-off – 2pm on Saturday (local time) – to return to the run-on side but Hansen admitted that was unlikely.

“There's a whole lot of things that would have to happen,” he added.

“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 Fekitoa will do well as Smith's replacement and that the team will cope with the veteran's absence.

“Malakai's started the last test match (against England in June) so he'll be fine,” he explained.

“I'm sure Ryan Crotty is pretty excited about getting on a plane at the moment.”

New Zealand (Revised): 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith; 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.

Date: Saturday, August 16
Kick-off: 20:05 local (11:05 BST, 10:05 GMT)
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite, Stuart Berry
TMO: Shaun Veldsman