Players Association boss Rob Nichol endorses NZ Rugby's sabbatical clauses
Rob Nichol warns it would be unwise to underestimate the value of a sabbatical clause in a NZ Rugby contract.
NZ Rugby Players' Association boss Nichol says he has no idea whether 62-test fullback Ben Smith will take leave from the All Blacks later this year, as has been reported over the weekend, but he continues to endorse the concept of allowing players who have given long service to their employer to take a break from the sport.
If Smith, who is contracted to NZ Rugby until 2020 with an early termination option after the 2019 World Cup in Japan, does decide to make himself unavailable from eight tests later this season he will follow the example of former All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter who also activated sabbatical clauses during their careers.
"For those who have been at the coalface of the game, particularly the leadership at the highest level, it really is intense," Nichol said.
"The ability to have a clean break, for certain individuals, can be really, really beneficial."
In addition to being the All Blacks' vice-captain and a member of the team's leadership group, Smith has also been the co-captain of the Highlanders in recent seasons.
A sabbatical clause in a contract has the potential to ensure a player remains motivated, as well add longevity to their career, Nichol stated.
"If they know they have got a dedicated break coming up, when the pressure is going to be off, and they know they can actually disengage from the environment completely, that has as much as value leading up that break as the break itself.
"If you can use that to your advantage to keep the player, and to keep him motivated, and inspired to continue on the path they are on with NZ Rugby, then you would be absolutely foolish not to take advantage of it."
Carter took two sabbaticals during his career. He was allowed to take leave from the Crusaders' Super Rugby programme in 2009, making a couple of appearances for French club Perpignan before rupturing an Achilles tendon.
In 2014 he skipped the majority of the Super Rugby season, making the most of the break to travel outside New Zealand.
McCaw went on holiday during the 2013 season, making just two appearances as a substitute in the final two games of the year.
Both men went on to play key roles in the All Blacks' defence of the Webb Ellis Cup in Britain in 2015.
Giving the players the chance to jump off the rugby carousel can have long-term benefits for all parties, Nichol believed.
"Just knowing that they call on when the moment is right, sometimes when you have got that, it can be really valuable," he said. "It is like school exams. You know that once you have done them, you have got a holiday. It is the same with an athlete."