Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod backs Ben Smith's sabbatical

Highlanders fullback Ben Smith has endured an injury riddled season.
KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES

Highlanders fullback Ben Smith has endured an injury riddled season.

Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod believes Ben Smith's decision to activate the sabbatical clause in his contract next month is the right call. 

While details of Smith's break are yet to officially be confirmed, the All Blacks and Highlanders fullback is expected to sit out the final eight test matches this year.

"For what he's been through this year, I think it's a good decision for him," McLeod told media at Highlanders headquarters on Tuesday.

Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod backs Ben Smith's sabbatical.
GETTY IMAGES

Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod backs Ben Smith's sabbatical.

"It's shown in the past it can be beneficial to the athlete and the teams. It's a new ground and it's a special ground for some players, but if it values the player, our game and our teams then it's good."

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The 31-year-old's sabbatical will start after the Bledisloe Cup test in Dunedin on August 26, so he will sit out four Rugby Championship tests, the third test Bledisloe Cup in Brisbane, and the the entire end-of-year tour. 

Newly signed assistant coach Aaron Mauger was spotted at Highlanders training on Tuesday.
HENRY BROWNE/REUTERS

Newly signed assistant coach Aaron Mauger was spotted at Highlanders training on Tuesday.

Smith's season has been hindered by a series of head-knocks, with the latest - against the British and Irish Lions last month - initially thought to be his third concussion of the year. 

However, he was later cleared of concussion and instead diagnosed with an inner-ear problem.

While Smith donned a bandage on his head at Highlanders training on Tuesday, McLeod said it was only for a cut and the team's co-captain took a full part in training.

Highlanders coach Tony Brown won't name his team for Saturday night's quarterfinal against the Crusaders in Christchurch until Thursday, but Smith is expected to play his first game since the first test match against the Lions. 

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McLeod, who will take over for Wayne Smith as All Blacks defence coach after the Rugby Championship, also confirmed Matt Faddes (broken hand) took a full part in training, albeit with a cast on his hand.

Meanwhile, Aaron Mauger was at training in an "observing" role only. 

The former All Black and Crusader signed with the Highlanders for the next two seasons earlier this year and, along with fellow assistant coach Mark Hammett, is a candidate to replace Japan-bound Tony Brown as head coach. 

 - Stuff

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