Smith to face Wallabies

WELLINGTON – New Zealand’s Ben Smith will face Australia in two tests at the start of the Rugby Championship next month but thereafter play no more rugby until next season, his agent told local media on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old All Blacks vice captain, widely regarded as one of the best fullbacks in the world, negotiated a sabbatical into his new contract in February and will be unavailable for eight internationals. The break is aimed at ensuring Smith reaches the 2019 World Cup in good shape and follows a precedent set by Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, who both had sabbaticals between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.

“Contractually he’s on sabbatical now,” his agent Warren Alcock told the New Zealand Herald.

“He has decided to make himself available for the two Bledisloe games because he has missed some rugby this year.

“We built in quite a significant sabbatical for him because to get him through to 2019 we felt that’s what he was going to need physically and mentally.”

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