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In a perfect world, says Conrad Smith, he’d be playing 20-odd games of top rugby a year and having a four-month off-season.
But he understands that the professional rugby world as it exists now is a long, long way from perfect and that’s forced him to make the difficult decision to kick in the sabbatical clause in his contract and take this year’s November tour to France, England and Ireland off.
Smith announced at the end of the All Blacks’ second mini-training camp in Mount Maunganui yesterday that he would be sitting out the tour as both he and his bosses at the NZRU look to do what they can to extend his career, possibly as far as the 2015 World Cup in England.
‘‘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,’’ said Smith, who confirmed he will be available for the Hurricanes’ Friday night Super Rugby clash in Canberra.
‘‘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.’’
The reality, said Smith, in the current environment was that for older, more experienced players to extend their test careers well into their 30s their workload needed to be managed.
Playing 10-month seasons with well over 30 games at the top level was simply not sustainable on a long-term basis, he felt.
The 31-year-old 66-test veteran believed rugby would eventually come up with a global season to reduce the workload on its best players, but probably not soon enough to benefit him.
‘‘I reckon if you’re playing in the mid-20s games it would be ideal, and if that was over eight months that would be good, so you could have a couple of months off and a couple of months genuine pre-season training when you’re not worrying about preparing for games.
‘‘That would be an ideal situation. I don’t think I’ll see that in my career but I’d like to see it happen for the guys starting out and into the future.’’
Smith said his sense was there was a desire among rugby people to come up with a global season, but that there were a lot of hurdles to clear before it could become a reality.
‘‘The way the professional game has evolved, you’ve got a little bit of a stalemate in that there are lot of interested parties who see it in different ways. But they are still working towards the same thing and I do think they’ll get there eventually.’’
Smith’s view certainly had support from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who’s having to deal with senior players enacting sabbaticals on an all too regular basis as a compromise to the long and sapping season.
‘‘What we need is to get round the table as a global game and sort out a calendar that allows all of the competitions we respectively have to be participated in but with decent breaks in there.
‘‘We’ve got to look after the golden egg which is the players,’’ he said.
Smith, meanwhile, said he was comfortable with the midfield depth in the New Zealand game, despite some disquiet being expressed about the options beyond him and his long-time centre partner Ma’a Nonu.
With Richard Kahui committed to a deal in Japan, Tamati Ellison doing likewise and Rene Ranger heading to France, there is not a lot of senior midfield contenders beyond the incumbent duo.
‘‘New Zealand has got a luxury of a lot of good players in most positions, and it only looks like we’ve got a lack of depth for a month or two and then guys come in and fill the spots and we’re suddenly looking elsewhere,’’ said Smith.
‘‘I think that’s the case with midfield. We’ve got a lot of great players there.’’
Smith also admitted to some amusement over suggestions Nonu was proving a ‘‘jinx’’ at Super Rugby level, and might have lost his All Black mojo as well.
‘‘He’s certainly not jinxing the All Blacks, he’s been outstanding. If given the opportunity I’d love to play alongside him again. I’ve enjoyed just having a weekend practising and hearing his friendly banter.
‘‘He’s a great player and I’m sure he’s still got lot to offer not only to the black jersey but to the franchise he plays with as well.’’
- The Dominion Post
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