Star All Black Ben Smith puts his hand up for Bledisloe Cup despite prearranged sabbatical
The fullback will face the Wallabies in the first two tests of the Rugby Championship before taking the rest of the year off
New Zealand’s Ben Smith will face Australia in two tests at the start of the Rugby Championship next month but thereafter play no more rugby until next season, his agent told local media on Wednesday.
The 31-year-old All Blacks’ vice captain, widely regarded as one of the best fullbacks in the world, negotiated a sabbatical into his new contract in February and will be unavailable for eight internationals.
The break is aimed at ensuring Smith reaches the 2019 World Cup in good shape and follows a precedent set by Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, who both had sabbaticals between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.
“Contractually he’s on sabbatical now,” his agent Warren Alcock said. “He has decided to make himself available for the two Bledisloe games because he has missed some rugby this year.
“We built in quite a significant sabbatical for him because to get him through to 2019 we felt that’s what he was going to need physically and mentally.”
Smith missed the last two tests against the British & Irish Lions because of what were initially thought to be concussion symptoms but later discovered to be caused by an inner-ear problem.
“What has changed is he was injured and had a reasonable break out of Super Rugby and missed a couple of Lions games so he’s reassessed things and decided he was keen to be available for the next two games and then he’ll take his sabbatical,” Alcock said.
Smith had no intention of following fly half Carter by using his sabbatical to take up a lucrative contract in Europe, he said.
“It’s always been a non-playing sabbatical with the intention of allowing his body a break,” Alcock said.
“He’s a player that pretty much plays every minute of Super Rugby with the Highlanders and with the All Blacks he plays high minutes as well.”
Smith will miss four Rugby Championship tests against South Africa and Argentina, the third Bledisloe Cup clash with the Wallabies in Brisbane on October 21 and tests against France, Scotland and Wales on the end of year tour.