Timely focus on Smith’s All Black milestone

Recognition of Conrad Smith’s milestone match for the All Blacks last night would have slipped away if Richie McCaw had been fit for his 100th test.

Instead, the rash of injuries gave us a chance to focus on the contribution Smith has made to the All Blacks since he played the first of his 50 tests against Italy at the Stadio Flaminio in 2004. Fittingly, Smith scored the All Blacks’ first try last night.

I played with and against him in Wellington. Maybe the first time was in club rugby when his Old Boys University side played our Petone team and he put one over me and the ref. We were on defence and I tackled him in front of our posts and he did not release the ball. Somehow he won the penalty and they kicked the goal to win the match.

There was not much to him in those days, but he was tenacious, tough and very involved.

Eventually he made his way into provincial and Super rugby and after what seemed quite a short apprenticeship he made the All Blacks in 2004.

Since then he has improved a great deal, bulked up a fair bit and is one of the go-to men for the All Blacks. He is in the leadership group, is someone with a strong intellect and a great work ethic.

That shows on the field and off, where he has completed his law degree and still works for his firm. He is a great guy, has a sharp sense of humour and is a superb team man.

When I went back to play for Wellington in 2005 they had changed the blazer badges for the union. We were sitting in the bus and he turned round and pointed at my badge, asking what that “old” thing was.

I reminded him I’d earned that honour before he was born and demanded, jokingly, he show some respect. Both of us and the rest of the bus cracked up and Conrad has that neat edge to him.

He is an advocate for the players, he has led many negotiations and is not scared to voice his opinion. His play shows the same maturity.

He may not be the biggest centre running around – he’s not like Mike Tindall or Jaque Fourie – but he has enough size and is a clever footballer.

He rarely makes a poor choice on the field and if he does, you can be sure he will be out on the training field practising hard to correct any fault he might have in his game.

He is very passionate, he has courage, he hates losing and never wants to do anything on the field which puts his teammates under more pressure.

Conrad’s best asset is his brain. He thinks things through, he analyses, dissects and fixes issues.

He is very good at the contact area, just like that time I met him in Wellington club rugby, he has good technique, he has enough speed and knows how to be in the right place at the right time. His family are beaut people from Taranaki and they raised a great son and brother.

The late changes forced on the All Blacks last night showed how you always have to be ready.

Whenever a team is named some players will be disappointed but, if you drop your lip, the coaches quickly pick up on that sort of thing. So no matter any hurt, you have to keep training hard to take your chance when it comes.

Cory Jane was someone who did not have a great Super season, but when he got his chance with the All Blacks he took it and is now at the World Cup.

Isaia Toeava got his turn at fullback because of late injuries to Mils Muliaina and Israel Dagg.

He was superb in those duties before he was hurt in the Super 15 and if the other two are not fit for France, he will be right in the frame for that job.

I think it is his best position where he gets a bit of space, gets a lot of touches and looks a lot more comfortable.

Pulling that injured quartet was the right decision. It’s hard on Mils because he wanted to show his form, but these guysall know if they are not 100 per cent, then they should not put the team or themselvesat more risk.