All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is to take six months off rugby.
He will lead the All Blacks on this year's end-of-year tour to Europe, but will then trigger a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby Union contract.
The 31-year-old will sit out the three tests against France in June, and will not play for the Crusaders until July, in a bid to preserve his body through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
A frequent target for opposition cheap shots, McCaw will be the second All Black to take a sabbatical, after Dan Carter's ill-fated $1 million 2008 stint with French club Perpignan, where he snapped his Achilles tendon. Carter can also take another six-month sabbatical before the cup.
"It is definitely going to happen," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told the Sunday Star-Times last night. "Richie is going to take a sabbatical. He will probably be available after June. He won't be available for the tests or Super Rugby, so he's going to get a good break. We've worked this through with all parties and I fully support it.
"He had it written into his contract and he's elected to take it. He's going to see the season out with the All Blacks, then have a break. It will freshen him up and he'll come back and be good for the next couple of years."
Unlike Carter's venture to France, McCaw's six months off is purely to give his body a chance to recover, to ensure he has the chance to see out his four-year contract.
New Zealand's top players are being asked to play up to 33 games this year, taking a huge toll. "He's probably going to head overseas and have a bit of a holiday, have a break and get away from the game," Blackadder said.
The sabbaticals being offered to selected All Blacks are the union's way of keeping top players in the country, because it cannot match what players can make overseas.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also gave his blessing to McCaw. "Richie is smart enough to know what his body needs," he said as the All Blacks left for Argentina yesterday.
"He's got a sabbatical in his contract, so it's up to him use it. If we want to get him through to the world cup, it's a good idea. The Super 15 is a tough competition. For someone like Richie to step out of that, he obviously thinks it's pertinent, hence why it's in his contract."
All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read will take over the Crusaders captaincy. "It's a huge commitment to do both these days," Blackaddder said. "Super Rugby is now an eight-month programme. It's a lot bigger than it used to be. The succession plan is Reado. He did a fantastic job this year."
- Taranaki Daily News
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