Sydney (AFP) - All Black centre Conrad Smith has pulled out of this weekend's Rugby Championship opener against Australia to return home for the birth of his child, team officials said Friday.
"Conrad Smith has returned to NZ to be with his wife who is expecting a baby. Ryan Crotty called into AB squad as cover," the All Blacks announced on their official Twitter feed.
The absence of 77-Test veteran Smith, who has forged a record-breaking centres partnership with Ma'a Nonu, is a major blow for the All Blacks as they chase a record-breaking 18th consecutive win.
Malakai Fekitoa is expected to start in his place, with Crotty on the bench.