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June 21, 2021
International Sport

Rugby – Smith unruffled over All Blacks future after sabbatical

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Image: Ben Smith of New Zealand reacts during their Rugby World Cup Final against Australia at Twickenham in London, in this file photo dated October 31, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Fullback Ben Smith has no qualms about surrendering his hold on the All Blacks number 15 jersey next month as he takes a total break from all rugby until next year’s Super Rugby season.

The 31-year-old will utilise a sabbatical clause in his contract after the All Blacks’ second Rugby Championship clash with Australia in his hometown of Dunedin on Aug. 26.

“I’m not going to play any rugby at all,” Smith told reporters in Christchurch, where the All Blacks have been holding a two-day training camp ahead of their opener against the Wallabies in Sydney on Aug. 19.

“It’s a real chance to take a bit of a break from footy and get my body right (and)… gives me an opportunity to do some other things that I think will help me.”

Smith said he would take his family on holiday to Australia and the United States during his break.

He had originally planned to take the sabbatical after his Super Rugby commitments with the Otago Highlanders ended this year but concussion issues had restricted his playing time and he decided to delay the beginning of the break.

The injuries to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s first-choice fullback forced him to tinker with his backline during the series against the British and Irish Lions.

Israel Dagg played the second test in his preferred position at fullback before rookie Jordie Barrett got his first start in the jersey in the third.

Waikato Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie also impressed for the second successive year in Super Rugby, but Hansen named him as a flyhalf for the training camp and has said the 22-year-old’s future is likely to be closer to the scrum.

Smith, however, said he was not concerned at giving some of the young contenders an opportunity to usurp him in Hansen’s planning ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

“There’s always going to be opportunities but if I’m good enough I’ll get back, and if I’m not… that’s the beauty of the All Blacks. The best players play,” Smith said.

“I’ve just got to back myself that with that time I want to be really humming coming into next year. I felt that was the best way to really push for the next couple of years.”

Hansen will name the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship next Monday.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)

Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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