Smith's sabbatical confirmed

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 09:56
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NEWS: New Zealand vice-captain Ben Smith will be taking a four-month break from the sport after the second Bledisloe Cup Test in Dunedin.

His manager Warren Alcock confirmed that Smith, who has been concussed twice and had an inner-ear problem this year, is not taking the sabbatical as a result of a series of head-knocks. However, he is invoking the sabbatical clause in his contract.

Alcock, who in February negotiated Smith's contract with New Zealand Rugby through to 2020, told Stuff the timing of the break was always "locked in" for this year. 

"The timing was always locked in from the end of Super Rugby until next year's Super Rugby campaign. We had always had that agreed. So all we've really done is he's agreed to be available for two further games," Alcock said.

Smith's decision to make himself available for the first two Bledisloe Tests stemmed from him missing chunks of the Super Rugby season and British and Irish Lions tour due to injury. 

It means the 31-year-old will be available for the Sydney Test on August 19, and the Dunedin Test in his hometown a week later. He will then sit out the rest of the year and the eight tests the All Blacks will play. 

After Smith's Highlanders were knocked out of Super Rugby by the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend, Smith told media he was close to confirming his break. 

"Primarily, he wanted to get through Super Rugby before giving any thought to anything outside Super Rugby. Having got through that on the weekend he sat down with the key people he needed to talk to and made some decisions. 

"My expectation is he will genuinely start a sabbatical after those two Bledisloe Cups," Alcock added.

Smith suffered concussion in the Highlanders' season opening Super Rugby loss to the Chiefs in February, and again against the Crusaders in June. There were fears he suffered a third concussion in the first test against the Lions, before it was later revealed he had an inner-ear problem.

The 62-Test All Black also missed the Highlanders' home game against the Rebels with a hamstring injury. 

A sabbatical clause, which former All Black captain Richie McCaw also used in the past, was put in Smith's contract to give him the best possible chance of reaching the 2019 World Cup.

"Myself, New Zealand Rugby and Ben [Smith] all wanted him to stay until 2019. So to increase the chance that we could all get him there in great shape, the reality was he was going to need a significant break in that time period. 

"I've seen the value of the breaks there. They have a massive impact on the player. Their body just gets time to rest, their energy levels benefit. They've had time off from the mental preparations of Test matches, all that sort of stuff. I think they have a real place in a guy who plays 10 or so plus years at the highest level," he stated.

Unlike former All Black Dan Carter, who used his sabbatical to play overseas, Smith will use the break to spend time at home with his wife and young family. 

Smith will miss four Rugby Championship Tests, the final Bledisloe in Brisbane and three Tests on the end-of-year tour.