WELLINGTON - A Test rugby relationship that began on slow burn will scale new heights when All Blacks midfield pair Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu face the Springboks in Johannesburg.
The All Blacks' most enduring partnership enters the history books tomorrow morning when they start a Test together for a world record 51st time.
That will surpass the 50 starts shared by Ireland pair Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, a notable milestone in a relationship which has an uncertain future.
The two 31-year-olds first combined for Wellington in 2003 and a year later were also Hurricanes Super Rugby teammates.
Muscular inside centre Nonu made his Test debut that year and was a fringe option at the World Cup behind captain Tana Umaga.
Smith's Test breakthrough came in late 2004 outside Umaga, his decision-making and execution hitting a standard that hasn't waned over a decade.
Yet the pair didn't team up at Test level until 2008, on a freezing night at their Wellington home ground against Ireland.
Twenty-one different midfield combinations were used from 2003 to 2007 before coach Graham Henry turned to a combination which was proven in the domestic game and has gone on to start in 50 of New Zealand's 77 Tests since.