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Late developer Ben Smith learns self-belief

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Sportal.co.nz     08 Nov 2013     Getty Images

With incumbent Conrad Smith on a sabbatical, namesake Ben has been given the job of filling his boots and has adapted quickly against Australia and Japan.

However, the French, and their ability to run challenging lines will ensure a searching assignment for the Highlanders and Otago-based All Black.

But Smith is riding on confidence and has proven electric on New Zealand's right wing in 2013 and has scored 12 tries in the process.

Coach Steve Hansen described Smith as a 'late developer' who took his time to be comfortable wearing the All Blacks jersey.

"He did that on the wing and now he has a lot of self belief.

"We spent quite a lot of time talking and going through things with the coaches.

"Now it's just about going out and doing it, learning as he goes. He's a very capable rugby player," Hansen said.

It would need game time for him to get comfortable at centre and that could take three to five games, he said.

"But I think we'll see him get a handle on the situation quickly and we'll see his attacking flair coming through in the near future," Hansen said.

Smith had been offered some significant incentives to ply his trade in the European rugby hot houses but in July he signed with the NZRU until 2017.

"Like a lot of our good players, there are offers put in front of them all," Hansen said.

"This time he had an offer but New Zealand Rugby wisely put enough money on the table to keep him.

"He wasn't at that point anywhere near the player he is now, but the potential was there.

"He is one of only five players in history to score more than 12 tries in a Test season, so it's a pretty special year," Hansen said.

Elevation to All Blacks status affected players in different ways, the coach said.

There were some who were unable to handle the expectation associated with the status while there were others who stepped up to the plate from the outset. While there was a third type, of which Smith was one, who came in when they were not great but who advanced in class with the more opportunities they got.

One who had stood up to the plate was Charles Piutau, a fullback by preference but a wing in his two starts this year against Australia and Japan.

"He's [Piutau] taken off. His game against Australia was right up there," Hansen said.

"He looked comfortable, he seemed natural, he's got a lot of confidence.

"He repeated that performance against Japan and we'd expect him to do that again on Saturday," he said.