Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu poised to stand alone
October 3, 2013
Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith have developed a tremendous relationship © Getty Images
Most Prolific Partnerships In Test Rugby
The rugby partnership of Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu will reach new heights when New Zealand play South Africa in The Rugby Championship decider at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday, when they will start a Test together for a world-record 51st time.
The 31-year-olds who first combined for Wellington in 2003, and who were Hurricanes teammates a year later, equalled the 50-Test mark of Ireland pair Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy when the All Blacks defeated Argentina in La Plata, but their relationship faces an uncertain future.
Nonu made his Test debut at centre in 2003, and he was a fringe option at the Rugby World Cup in Australia behind captain Tana Umaga. Smith made his Test breakthrough in late 2004, outside Umaga, yet the pair didn't team up at Test level until a freezing night at their Wellington home ground against Ireland in 2008 New Zealand had tried 21 midfield combinations from 2003 to 2007 before coach Graham Henry turned to a combination proven in the domestic game; the validity of that decision has been proven time and again as the pair have since started 50 of New Zealand's 77 Tests.
All Blacks Records
They have surpassed the other All Blacks records for positional partnerships. Locks Ian Jones and Robin Brooke started 45 Tests together from 1992 to 1997 while Andrew Mehrtens and Justin Marshall reached 41 as a halves pairing from 1996 to 2004.
But how many more Tests will they play together?
Smith has been granted a four-month sabbatical, beginning next week, to help extend his career while Nonu seems set to play club rugby in Europe next year unless one of New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises has a change of heart and signs a player who has a reputation for being difficult to manage.
Nonu's eligibility to play for the All Blacks hence remains to be seen, while the possible return of Sonny Bill Williams to New Zealand rugby from the National Rugby League in Australia may also block his potential Test selection.
Follow live text commentary of the Test between South Africa and New Zealand on Saturday, October 5 from 3pm (GMT) , 1am (AEST, October 6), 4am (NZDT, October 6)
The latest Week in Pictures takes in all the action from the weekend when rugby united behind Samoa
The Wallabies showed flair in Dublin, but they still have a way to go if they are to do more than make up the numbers at the World Cup, writes Greg Growden
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales' lessons to learn in defeat by New Zealand are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards