All Blacks vice-captain Ben Smith is reportedly set to take up an option in his contract allowing him to take an extended sabbatical.
The New Zealand Herald are alleging that the 31-year-old Highlanders back could miss up to eight test during the break, beginning next month.
Smith was limited to a small role in the recent drawn Test series against the British and Irish Lions, coming off in the first test with suspected concussion before missing the remaining tests.
It will be a significant loss to Steve Hansen and the All Blacks. Smith, linked with moves to Munster and France’s Top 14 last year, recently signed a new contract with New Zealand Rugby to keep him in the southern hemisphere until 2020, and like several other of the All Blacks stars it allows for an extended break.
He will return for Highlanders this week in his first appearance since that Lions Test, and will take his break at the end of August. In that time, according to the report, will miss the majority of the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship campaign (bowing out after the first two Tests), as well as the games against Barbarians, France, Scotland and Wales.
Though Hansen will have options to replace Smith at the back (and will attest to this in public), it will be an inconvenience to the coach to lose an important player.