Take the money and run, Ben Smith.

The 30-year-old - whose New Zealand contract expires next year - would be crazy to turn down one of those big overseas contracts, a final chance to take a little extra care of his body and significantly boost his bank account while enjoying a rich life in Europe.

I'm sure he'd go with everyone's best wishes, and who would begrudge a bloke like Israel Dagg - who knows all about test selection ups and downs - taking the same route.

There are no World Cup guarantees for 2019, not at Smith's age, particularly when you consider the punishing schedule rugby's planners are putting players through.

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Steve Hansen gave Smith the best possible steer, as the All Blacks dragged their bodies through the final 2016 test against France. Hansen didn't mean it as a hint to All Blacks considering overseas contracts. But it was one.

"We go around the world twice, and play seven test matches (away from New Zealand)," Hansen said in Paris.

"I added up there are nine time changes, that is physically hard on you."

There is deep concern among players around the world about the draining and ridiculously long seasons, lack of recovery time, and the frightening long-term effects on their minds and bodies. Of course it is the best players, those who also play test football, who cop the worst of it.

The European club seasons are long and packed, but at least Smith would get a proper break between them - remember that Hansen has already planned a January camp for about 40 players. And most European club games would be easier than test clashes.

Hansen was blowing hard about the All Blacks' work load but spare a thought for the British Lions who come here next year.

The All Blacks can be managed under the centrally controlled rugby system, and will probably play around 14 Super Rugby games before taking on the Lions. Someone like English captain Dylan Hartley will have had well over 30 potential games for club and country before he gets here.

The Lions players will have been on a schedule so tough that Leicester Tigers rugby director Richard Cockerill - once a belligerent English hooker - reckons they will need three months rest afterwards cutting deep into the new northern season. But will they actually get that rest?

The Lions' opening game in Whangarei is just a week after the British domestic finals, meaning the Lions will arrive here in two waves with some of the best players making the long flight on fresh injuries. It's damned ridiculous.

This in turn robs the punters. The Lions tour shapes as a brilliant contest given what we have seen over the past few weeks. But it won't be if the players arrive here battered and tired.

As for Ben Smith, it's an easy choice from this distance. He's won a World Cup. He led the Highlanders to a fairytale title. He's got a terrific chance to add the Lions' scalp, because the powerful tourists will be knackered before they get here.

He is also among the most loved and revered players in the history of New Zealand rugby. And the game isn't going to get any less physical, or slower. More likely the opposite.

Time to really take care of yourself, Benny boy.


One day we'll do it in Australia


A marvellous cricket test in Hamilton, eventually, and I'm among those extremely glad to have clung on through the bad times in order to enjoy the final session when the Kiwi bowlers ripped Pakistan apart.

I've often missed out, particularly with NRL league games, quitting one sided or drab contests only to find later that they turned into thrillers.

Some of the final day's play in Hamilton was too slow. And without any offence intended, Pakistan may be a very fine test side but they lack a certain star quality...as do New Zealand right now. I very nearly quit the couch. It turned into a stunning evening.

New Zealand's record in Australia is so bad that it is difficult to be buoyant about their hopes in the Chappell Hadlee series next week. We've never won a one day series there. But a 2 - 0 test win over Pakistan made for a wonderful start to the summer. We can live in hope about a win in Aussie...and this has been a remarkable year of sporting droughts being broken.