SAY goodbye to Sonny Bill Williams, say hello to the old firm.
The high-profile departure of Williams to Japan has only served to reunite the most prolific backline partnership in All Blacks rugby as Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu get set to start Test No.35 together.
The Smith-Nonu midfield axis hasn’t been sighted since the World Cup final last October but they seem certain to run out against Argentina in the Rugby Championship Test at Wellington on Saturday.
Smith has recovered from the eye surgery that kept him out of the twin defeats of Australia last month and he ran smoothly at a wet training session on Monday.
Nonu combined with Williams at outside centre for those Tests but should move back into his favoured No.12 jersey to face the Pumas.
Smith, who linked with Williams for the three-Test series against Ireland in June while Nonu was rested, is a welcome returnee, according to assistant coach Ian Foster.
“He’s a quality player, I think he was the best player in the country in Super Rugby so to have him back fit and strong is great,” Foster said.
“He brings lots of leadership and lots of experience to the decision-making part of the game in the backs.
“Him and Ma’a getting back together after a while apart could be interesting too.”
Even though the All Blacks are heavy favourites to maintain their historic unbeaten record against Argentina, the selectors are unlikely to risk any other midfield combination.
Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith are options at No.12 and No.13 respectively while the last 10 minutes of New Zealand’s 22-0 thrashing of the Wallabies at Auckland saw Aaron Cruden introduced at five-eighth, with Dan Carter shifting to inside centre.
Cruden wasn’t holding his breath for a repeat this week.
“That worked all right. I was just stoked to get out on the field and if the coaches see that as a potential combination then that’ll be great for me.”
There are no injury issues.
Prop Tony Woodcock has recovered from the rib problem that ruled him out of the Auckland Test while lock Luke Romano appears unaffected by a blow to the shoulder suffered at Eden Park.