Smith loss 'no drama': McCaw

Richie McCaw (AFP)
Richie McCaw (AFP)

Sydney - All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw has brushed off the almost certain loss of centre Conrad Smith for Saturday's Rugby Championship match against Australia, when the world champions could set a new record for consecutive victories.

New Zealand's final preparations for the start of their title defence were hit by a pregnant pause on Friday morning when Smith rushed home to Wellington to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

Exciting young talent Malakai Fekitoa will come off the bench to replace the 77-Test veteran in midfield and Ryan Crotty has been called into the squad, even if coach Steve Hansen has not given up hope Smith might play a part in the match.

"It's happened enough times in the past," a phlegmatic McCaw told reporters at the Olympic Stadium.

"Just look at the last test we played when Conrad broke his thumb. Malakai was the last guy to play at centre in the last Test so him slotting in will be fine.

"At the end of the day, if you let those things influence what you do in the weekend, you haven't really got the environment set up right so hopefully everyone's aware of what's going on and have prepared as such."

That sort of sangfroid in the face of disruption typifies the sort of team culture that has helped the All Blacks match the record for most consecutive victories for a top tier nation over the last 14 months.

An 18th successive victory on Saturday would add that record to an already impressive collection of honours the All Blacks have achieved in the last three years, including the World Cup triumph and back-to-back Rugby Championships.

Beat the Wallabies in Sydney and again in Auckland in the return match next week and New Zealand will retain the Bledisloe Cup for an 12th straight season.

McCaw becomes the first player to play 50 matches in the two incarnations of the annual southern hemisphere test championship on Saturday and his approach to feats and honours remains as grounded as ever.

"We addressed it at the start of the week and said there was an opportunity," he said of the record winning streak.

"If you look at the Bledisloe, that's on the line as well. We just want to go out and perform well and if we do that we give ourselves a good chance of winning and getting one hand back on the Bledisloe.

"Those by-products would be nice but we've got to get the job done first."

Teams:

Australia:

15 Israel Folau, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 James Slipper

Substitutes (one to be omitted): 16 James Hanson, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Scott Higginbotham, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Bernard Foley, 24 Tevita Kuridrani

New Zealand:

15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett

Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty

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