All Black centre Smith looks the perfect solution for Reds
The speculation surrounding Munster's stated intention to sign a new centre continues to swirl around the province as they gear up for Saturday's Magners League Grand Final against Leinster, with Auckland utility back Isaia Toeava the latest to be linked with the province.
However, one name that should not be ruled out is Toeava's fellow All Black Conrad Smith, who told the Irish Independent last November that playing for Munster would be "appealing" and now believes the flexibility in NZRU contracts allowing extended sabbaticals offers a chance to commit to New Zealand, while still experiencing rugby overseas.
"A lot of the incentive to go this season is for a change of scene," Smith told '3news' yesterday. "A lot of the time it's not necessarily all about the money. If you're giving guys breaks, sabbaticals or off-season breaks and they can go overseas and see a bit of the world, I think it will make people refreshed and willing to stay in New Zealand and play.
"Guys never begrudge other players what they can get. We play a game we love and whatever we can get out of it is a bonus. Using the break that we have to go overseas for a little while is great and I am available to play games and then, hopefully, come back and enjoy another year."
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent in the autumn, Smith said that if he did decide to try his hand in Europe, having experienced Thomond Park during the All Blacks' narrow win in 2008, Munster would be a preferred option.
"I wouldn't rule it out," he said. "I got a taste of Munster when we came over the last time and I was impressed; the passion they have for rugby is pretty strong, it was cool. I'm a player fuelled by passion. I'm not particularly big or fast, I need to really believe in who I'm playing for.
"I feel that if I played for a random team over there (Europe) the same drive wouldn't be there. For now, I'm happy playing in New Zealand, but it is pretty appealing."
Last week, star out-half Dan Carter signed a four-year deal to play in New Zealand, while negotiating another sabbatical (following his spell with Perpignan in 2009) as part of his contract. This clause, which enabled Carter to sample overseas rugby again without ruling him out of playing for the All Blacks, was viewed as crucial to New Zealand getting their man, as an earlier two-year inflexible offer appeared to be pushing him towards a lucrative move to Europe.
"There is flexibility in the contract with the sabbatical and I am thankful to the union for being flexible because four years is a long time and things can change," said Carter when signing the contract. "There is a playing sabbatical element to the contract and it's about having the flexibilty in case I want to take up that option."
Even if Smith (left) were to come over only on a short-term deal, the benefits could be significant in Tony McGahan's search for midfield creativity.
South Africa's Jean de Villiers and Smith's fellow All Black Sam Tuitupou produced mixed results during their one-year stays, but Smith has proven to be one of the world's finest attacking centres over the last six or seven years and his intelligence would be of a considerable benefit in a coaching capacity also.
The centre partnership for Saturday's clash with Leinster is a hot topic around Munster this week. The 21-year-old Danny Barnes produced an impressive two-try performance in the semi-final win over the Ospreys, but may be considered too inexperienced against the Heineken Cup champions, who have Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy (who sat out training yesterday) and Fergus McFadden on their books.