Smith set for All Blacks wing

2013-06-05 09:11
Ben Smith (Getty)

Wellington - Ben Smith has been the form New Zealand player at fullback but is likely to be named on the right wing when Steve Hansen finalises his side for the first Test of their three-match series against France at Eden Park on Saturday.

The 27-year-old Smith has been one of the few players to shine for an underperforming Highlanders outfit with his incisive running, line breaks and defensive work, and pundits had been expecting him to replace Israel Dagg in the number 15 jersey for the All Blacks.

However, the season-ending injury to Cory Jane in February and Hosea Gear's decision to play in France at the end of the campaign meant Hansen was looking for a right wing for the series against Phillipe Saint Andre's side.

Smith can play fullback, wing or centre, where many predict he could be a long-term replacement for namesake Conrad Smith, but the All Blacks coaches are loathe to label the Otago man as a utility player.

"I see him capable of starting in three (positions), and that's why I don't like the utility tag," assistant coach Ian Foster told reporters in Auckland. "For us, it is probably a matter of where we have the best mix.

"Wing looks pretty likely this week."

Smith has appeared in 12 Tests for the All Blacks since his debut in 2009, though only three have been in the starting side and he was just keen on being named in the first XV again.

"At the moment, I'm just happy playing anywhere," he said.

"I think fullback fits in well with wing, I think those positions are pretty similar these days because you work as a back-three unit.

"I don't think I've put my name on one position. If I get the opportunity, I'm really looking forward to having a go."

While Smith is a likely inclusion on Thursday, regular starters flyhalf Daniel Carter, scrumhalf Piri Weepu and loosehead prop Tony Woodcock are unlikely to be considered for Saturday's match at Eden Park.

Carter has been training with the team but has a non-displaced fracture in his hand that he sustained last week for the Canterbury Crusaders against the Waratahs.

Foster said if Carter was not 100 percent fit he would not be risked, with Aaron Cruden likely to start the match.

Weepu was knocked unconscious in the Blues' loss to the Highlanders and while he had also been training, was unlikely to be selected.

Woodcock is nursing two minor injuries to his nose and hamstring and is likely to be replaced by either Wyatt Crockett or Ben Franks, both of whom have performed well for their respective Super Rugby franchises.

Number eight Kieran Read has been named captain for the series in place of openside flanker Richie McCaw, who is on a six-month sabbatical and unlikely to play any rugby before the All Blacks begin their defence of the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship title in August.

Likely All Blacks side: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett

Substitutes : 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Rene Ranger

Read more on:    all blacks  |  ben smith  |  rugby

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