Smith back for All Blacks
Conrad Smith (File)
Wellington - Conrad Smith will return for New Zealand's Rugby Championship clash against Argentina on Saturday after the centre missed two Bledisloe Cup Tests against Australia due to eye surgery.
Smith and Ma'a Nonu have had a long partnership at Super Rugby and international level and were the first choice centre pairing for the All Blacks during last year's World Cup campaign, though they have not played together since beating France to win the Webb Ellis trophy.
Smith had two surgeries on a detached retina following the conclusion of the Super Rugby tournament and was unavailable for the All Blacks victories over the Wallabies last month.
The 30-year-old Nonu was rested for the June internationals against Ireland, and when he returned to the side for the Rugby Championship he was moved out to centre to accommodate Sonny Bill Williams.
Williams has since left on a short-term playing contract in Japan and is then expected to link up with a rugby league club in Australia.
Smith's return will bring greater balance to the backline, with Nonu and Williams both line-breaking players, and who appeared to lack a little cohesion in linking with their back three in the Tests against Australia.
"We have been working on constantly improving our game and that has again been our focus this week," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said in a statement.
"We were happy with our intensity and attitude in the last test against Australia, but not so happy with our execution when we didn't get the decision-making process right on occasions, so we are looking for improvement in that area this weekend."
Hurricanes youngster Julian Savea also returns to the side on the left wing after he scored three tries on debut against Ireland and played the second test against Brian O'Driscoll's side but was overlooked for Hosea Gear since.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also made two changes to the forwards from that which started at Eden Park against the Wallabies with Victor Vito replacing Liam Messam at blindside flanker while lock Brodie Retallick replaces Sam Whitelock.
Both Messam and Whitelock move to the replacements bench from which versatile Auckland prop Charlie Faumuina could make his test debut, with Hansen expecting a tough battle up front against the Pumas.
"It is going to be very physical, especially up front where they are traditionally very strong," Hansen said.
"We also have immense respect for their backline abilities plus they have one of the best defensive structures in modern rugby.
"They are always looking to work as a unit to shut you down."
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith
Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero