Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Smith injury hurts midfield

Conrad Smith, who is recovering from eye surgeries, will miss the first two Bledisloe Cup tests. Picture / Greg Bowker
Conrad Smith, who is recovering from eye surgeries, will miss the first two Bledisloe Cup tests. Picture / Greg Bowker

All Black centre Conrad Smith will miss the first two Bledisloe Cup tests after surgery for a detached retina.

His absence from those tests in Sydney and Auckland will put more pressure on the midfield which has shed Richard Kahui to a season-ending shoulder injury and Sonny Bill Williams to an offshore career in Japan.

Smith complained of blurred vision in the late stages of the Hurricanes season and underwent several surgeries last week.

"Conrad had two procedures on his left eye for a retinal detachment last week, with the second on Friday," Hurricanes doctor Ian Murphy revealed.

"They both went well and he is now recovering at home. At this stage he is expected to be out of training for six weeks."

Smith's enforced stand down will provoke plenty of debate among the selectors about how to cover his exit.

The first evidence will come next week when a squad is announced for a two-day camp starting on August 1 in Wellington.

Once those players have been assessed and the All Black selectors deal with their medical list, they will announce on August 5, the day after the Super 15 final, a group of 28 players and two extras they will take into the debut Rugby Championship.

New faces or those not picked for the June series squad, who could fill in for Smith would be men like Robbie Fruean or Rene Ranger. However Fruean's health mean he still struggles to stay with a high tempo for an entire match while Ranger's form was poor in a substandard Blues side.

So coach Steve Hansen, with selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox, are more likely to use players within their squad to fill the duties while considering new players for other roles.

Tamati Ellison who came on for a small substitute role in the third test against Ireland at Hamilton will be asked to front up at centre as long as he has fully recovered from the leg muscle strain he suffered in the Highlanders final match. Another who could come into that frame is his Highlanders' teammate Ben Smith.

He has been used on the wing or at fullback by the All Blacks but his skills look as though they will transfer comfortably to the demands at centre.

He has speed, good hands, is a tidy defender and appears to read a game well - all the attributes which commended Conrad Smith to the national selectors when he was picked for the first of his 58 internationals.

The selectors will also look at making the best use of their surfeit of first five-eighths talent.

Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett are the new wave pushing for regular work and that could be accommodated by pushing Daniel Carter and Ma'a Nonu each out a position.

If Ben Smith was used as a backup centre, the All Blacks would still have Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Julian Savea and Zac Guildford to contest the back four selections.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 24 May 2017 17:41:31 Processing Time: 677ms