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Where: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
When: 11.05 (BST)
Watch live: Click here to watch on NowTV from Sky!
Experienced All Blacks centre Conrad Smith is in doubt to face the Wallabies after flying home to be with wife, who is expecting their first child.
After only arriving in Sydney with his team-mates on Thursday night, Smith returned to New Zealand on Friday morning and is rated only a slim chance to be back for Saturday night’s Rugby Championship opener at the Olympic stadium.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says Smith’s wife Lee-Ann had been due to give birth to the couple’s first child later this month, but the pregnancy had advanced on Thursday night.
“It looks like she’s going to come a little bit early … she started showing signs last night,” Hansen said.
“If it goes really well he could possibly be back, but we’re not holding our breath on that.”
Rookie Malakai Fekitoa, who made his debut against England in June, will slot into outside centre if Smith fails to make it back for the Test.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is backing the first-year All Black to do the job.
“It’s happened enough times over the past and just look at the last Test we played where Conrad broke his thumb so … Malakai was the last guy who played at centre in our last Test so him slotting in will be fine,” he said.
McCaw remains a monumental influence according to his Wallabies counterpart, but Michael Hooper is no longer certain the All Blacks captain is world rugby’s benchmark openside flanker.
Despite offering a glowing assessment of McCaw’s worth and dismissing talk that the 33-year-old is on the wane, Hooper’s refusal to rank the three-time world player of the year as still the best at his job sets up an intriguing head-to-head showdown at Sydney’s Olympic stadium on Saturday night.
Hooper will be searching for his first ever victory over the All Blacks and his battle at the breakdown with McCaw will be a key determining factor in the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener.
“I’ve played him (McCaw) a couple of times now and he’s still right up there as a tough competitor,” Hooper said.
“… There’s no chance he’s a spent force. The amount he’ll bring to the All Blacks jersey and the guys around him would be monumental.”
But when asked if McCaw remained the benchmark openside flanker in the game, Hooper admitted “it’s hard to say”.
“I think every (number) seven plays a different game,” said Hooper, himself challenging for the mantle as rugby’s premier openside flanker.
“I play a different game, Richie would play a different game to guys in the past, like a ‘Poey’ (David Pocock) or a George Smith, so everyone brings different things to the table.
“He’s very good at disrupting opposition ball and [he has] his physical presence on the ball.
“His biggest thing, however is what he would bring to an All Blacks jersey and the team around him.