Hurricanes and All Black outside centre Conrad Smith has announced that he will be taking a six-month sabbatical after the Rugby Championship, therefore missing out on the end-of-year tour; but who could replace him in the black number 13 jersey?
Ben Smith is the most likely to fill the big shoes of Conrad Smith, and like his namesake, has the ability to slip through gaps with ease.
Ben Smith has proved his worth in the black jersey, and has the kicking and running game to make the void left by the Hurricanes captain seem small.
With his experience primarily at fullback, Smith does have the ball sense to launch incredible counter-attacking moves, a trait that will be required for whoever wears the All Black 13 jersey.
Rene Ranger has been in and out of the All Black squad, and while he’s mostly played on the wing when donning the black jersey, he’s shown that he’s more comfortable in the outside centre position.
Ranger has had two great games for the All Blacks this season, coming on in the late minutes and having an immediate impact, bumping off players and delivering brilliant off-loads – exactly what he’s there to do.
The Blues centre hasn’t racked up All Black experience just yet, but Saili is arguably the best centre in the 2013 Super Rugby competition.
His attacking flair and powerful runs may not be in the mould of traditional Conrad Smith-style, but he could add a new element of attacking depth to the team, not to mention partnering up with the equally powerful Ma’a Nonu.
Tim Nanai-Williams has been seen to be on the fringes of All Black selection for a while now, but many people have said that the 90kg utility back is “too small” for international rugby, but Nanai-Williams has stood up against the best.
The slippery Chiefs player moved into the centre this year and has been making defences fear him since the first round.
While he may not be the biggest, his dedication and tackling ability is incredibly strong, and the fact that he has great speed, footwork and a tactical kicking game should make him a potential candidate for the black jersey, at some point at least.
Robbie Fruean has been tagged to be a future All Black for the last few seasons, but the Crusaders centre just can’t seem to get the nod from the selectors.
The big centre had some great moments when he made his return in this year’s Super Rugby tournament, and if he can hold his tackle-busting form and remain consistant (something he struggles with), then an All Black call-up shouldn’t be too far away.
The Crusaders centre has showed that he works great alongside Dan Carter, which will come in handy ahead of the end-of-year tours, where Carter should be all good to go.
Crotty is a solid choice, and while he may not steal the limelight and hog the attention, he’ll do the job with his hard running and great distribution out wide.
Ellison has had some moments in the centre positon for the All Blacks and has filled his role well.
The Highlanders centre has some great footwork and speed to back his abilities, and is also a very selfless player, often putting other players in space instead of going himself – similar to that of Conrad Smith.