Smith and Nonu set for championship finish

Nothing changed this week for long-time Hurricanes midfield comrades Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu as they prepared to end their Super Rugby careers in the best possible way.

One of the most enduring partnerships in New Zealand rugby history will wind up domestically in Saturday’s Super Rugby final against the Highlanders in Wellington on Saturday.

Both 33 and sharing the same number of Super Rugby caps (125), their All Blacks swansong will come at the World Cup before both depart for French club contracts.

Test rugby was on the backburner this week, though.

Nonu was typically elusive before a big game, turning down numerous requests to speak to media.

Captain Smith also stuck to his favoured methods, providing some thought-out public words designed to keep his teammates grounded ahead of the biggest game in the careers of many.

“You try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it and just think about what you need to do,” he said.

“Nothing changes. We want to play at a speed and tempo that creates opportunities for guys like myself. Ideally you do what’s got us this far and hope that it can go one more week.”

While his last year has been his most enjoyable, Smith reckons he has taken pleasure from all of his 12 campaigns, even their five-year play-off drought before this season.

He missed their only other final appearance in 2006 with a broken leg, at a time when the Hurricanes were regular play-off contenders.

Smith expressed satisfaction at having been a one-city player with both the Hurricanes and Wellington.

That can’t be said of Nonu, who fell out with former coach Mark Hammett and departed for modest stints with the Highlanders and Blues.

Hammett’s successor Chris Boyd remembers a chat in Auckland last year which ultimately helped convince Nonu to return.

The pair haven’t talked about the meeting since and Boyd has found the burly second five-eighth more focused and easier to coach than early in his career.

“Ma’a’s matured into a really complete individual. He’s got a great understanding of the 12 role and he’s become a real giver.

“You can see with how he’s playing that he’s really enjoyed being back in Wellington.”

A former Wellington assistant coach, Boyd also had plenty to do with Smith’s early years.

He admired the centre’s development into a player commanding widespread respect worldwide.

“Conrad’s probably the most determined individual that I’ve ever had anything to do with.

“He hates to lose at anything and not only has he played well this year but he’s grown significantly as a leader.”

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