Conrad Smith to take sabbatical
Veteran All Blacks centre and Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith says the lure of one more World Cup has played a big part in his decision to miss the end-of-year tour north.
Smith announced today at the end of the second All Blacks training camp in Mount Maunganui that he would be taking a short sabbatical at the tail end of the season and would sit out the three-test tour to France, England and Ireland.
That would enable him to take an extended break from the game before returning for the start of the 2014 Super Rugby season.
The 31-year-old said today the motivation for the extended off-season was to help elongate his career, possibly through until the 2015 World Cup in England where the defending champion All Blacks will look to claim their first global crown on foreign soil.
"The idea when I sat down with the NZRU was they were keen for me to hang around for a bit longer, to get two or three years out of me and even looking towards the next World Cup.
"I felt I needed probably a longer break and not to be playing 10 months of every year for the next four years, as it was when we sat down with them."
Smith, who has played 66 tests for the All Blacks, admitted the World Cup was a strong motivator as he looked to map out the latter stages of his career.
"I feel like I'm happy to play for two or three [more] years or whatever it is but not with the schedule as it currently is. That was the way I looked at it back at the end of last year.
"I could go one or two years and that would be maybe it but if I had longer breaks, and I think most guys would say the same, then you could see yourself playing maybe three more years."
Smith said he had thought at one stage about taking the Rugby Championship off, but had decided he still wanted to be involved in the major part of the season, and that the end-of-year tour made more sense.
When allied with the existing off-season break for All Blacks, it means he effectively gets a three-month break from the game, with travel again on the cards following his trek to Kenya last summer.
"Myself and my partner we're keen to travel again and that's going be part of the plan in the two to three months I have off," he said. "It's just enjoying things other than rugby which isn't always the case at the moment."
Smith confirmed he will rejoin the Hurricanes for their visit to the ACT Brumbies on Friday and hopes to play in the match after a spell out following his head knock suffered in South Africa.
"I got through the last few weeks well and did bit of a contact training last week," he said, confirming there were no lingering ill-effects from his concussion.
"To be honest you more go on how you feel, and I've felt good the last couple of weeks, but certainly getting through a contact session ticks the box for the doctors and for myself it's nice to know you're ready to play."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who will name his squad to face the French in Auckland on Sunday afternoon, said he was more than comfortable with his key midfielder's sabbatical decision.
"We've been part of the process all the way through, and we've been open and had good discussions," said Hansen. "It's something he feels he needs and we can only support that. I'd rather he went on a sabbatical than retired.
"He's still got a lot of rugby left in him, and it's just an indicator that players need to step out and get that decent break and get their bodies right."
Hansen said he had achieved what he wanted to after the back-to-back camps at the Mount, acknowledging them as a "necessary evil" coming as they did in the middle of a crucial period of Super Rugby.
"It's been outstanding for us," said Hansen. "I know it's been a pain in the butt for the franchises but thankfully they understand we need preparation time too. We've worked really hard at trying to return players both mentally and physically fresh, but it's a necessary curse.
"If you don't have some preparation time you're going to get beaten in test matches and no one wants that. So whilst the June window's in the middle of Super Rugby we've got to come up with something, and the Super Rugby coaches felt this was the best way to do it."
The squad finished up this morning with an opposed run against some local youngsters and Hansen said that had given him "a really good head start heading into Sunday".
The Dominion Post