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Ben Smith to take sabbatical from All Blacks for rest of the year

A clause in his contract allows the fullback to step away from the international team like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have done previously.

Smith missed the final two Test of the Lions series with an ear problem.
Smith missed the final two Test of the Lions series with an ear problem.
Image: David Davies

THE ALL BLACKS are set to be without Ben Smith for the rest of the year with the fullback reportedly ready to exercise a clause in his contract which allows him to take a sabbatical.

Reports in New Zealand say the 31-year-old, arguably the best fullback in world rugby, will miss eight Test matches after the Rugby Championship game against Australia on 26 August.

All Blacks coach Hansen will have to plan without his vice captain for the final four games of that campaign and four end-of-season Tests against the Barbarians, France, Scotland and Wales.

Smith signed a contract extension with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) earlier this year, a deal which sees him contracted until 2020, but like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter previously will take a break from the international game for a few months.

There are also reports that as part of the clause in his contract, Smith would be allowed pursue a short-term move to a northern hemisphere club during his time away from the All Blacks.

The Highlanders 15 missed the second and third Tests against the Lions with an ear problem and while his unavailability will be a blow to the world champions, Hansen has the likes of Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg and Nehe Milner-Skudder can all operate at fullback.

The 2017 Rugby Championship gets underway on 19 August when the All Blacks travel to Sydney to face Michael Cheika’s Wallabies.

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