Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Centre has eye on 2015 World Cup

Conrad Smith hopes break he negotiated from playing 10 months out of 12 for next four years will prolong career.

When Conrad Smith sat down to renegotiate his contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union last year, he felt there was no way he could continue to the next World Cup.

Playing 10 months a year seemed mentally and physically impossible to him then. And while there are no guarantees in terms of selection or future injuries, the sabbatical clause he inserted into his four-year deal at least makes helping the All Blacks defend their title in England and Wales in 2015 a possibility.

"It's mainly to prolong my career," he said at the All Blacks' training camp at Mt Maunganui yesterday.

"When I sat down with the NZRU, they were keen for me to hang around for a bit longer, to get two or three more years out of me and to even look towards the next World Cup. I felt I needed a longer break and not to be playing 10 months of every year for the next four years."

He said one of the options put forward by the NZRU was for him to miss the Rugby Championship against Argentina, Australia and South Africa which starts in August.

"There were times in the middle of last year that I genuinely thought that that could be a better option. But over time I felt I still wanted to be involved for the majority of this year."

He said he would travel with his partner during his time off.

With All Black captain Richie McCaw still on a break, and Dan Carter tipped to announce one of his own soon, player sabbaticals are once again in the spotlight.

Yet, while All Black coach Steve Hansen suggested yesterday there might be more to come, they are likely to become less common as rugby deals with a "global" season.

Smith reckoned the seachange of a co-ordinated playing window wouldn't happen during his playing career, but player power could make it a reality in 2016.

He felt playing eight months of the year, rather than the current 10, was more realistic. He said he could handle playing 20-25 games during that time, which allowed for two months off and two months of pre-season training, a schedule which got the nod from Hansen.

As a comparison, last year Liam Messam, an All Black with one of the highest workloads, played 28.

"If you could have a couple of months off and a couple of months' genuine pre-season training, where you're actually getting your body right, that would be ... ideal," Smith said.

Hansen said of Smith's break: "We can only support that. I'd rather he went on a sabbatical than retire. "

- APNZ

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