All Blacks vice captain Ben Smith is expected to sit out eight tests this year.

The Highlanders fullback and captain re-signed with New Zealand Rugby in February through to 2020 and, like many leading players, had a sabbatical clause included in his contract.

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are just two All Blacks who have exercised sabbaticals previously.

Smith is expected to use his leave option after the second Bledisloe Cup test in Dunedin on August 26, meaning he will miss four further Rugby Championship tests as well as the third test against the Wallabies in Brisbane, and four confirmed end of season games against the Barbarians, France, Scotland and Wales (eight tests in total).


One further mid-week match is expected to be added in France.

Smith played a limited role in the Lions series, coming off in the first test with what was initially suspected to be concussion symptoms.

This was later re-diagnosed as an inner ear infection, which saw him miss the second and third tests and sit out the Highlanders win over the Reds in Dunedin on Friday.

Smith will return for the quarter-finals showdown with the Crusaders in Christchurch this week.

While he is widely considered the world's best fullback, the All Blacks have no shortage of options to temporarily cover his absence.

Hurricanes utility Jordie Barrett will be the favourite to enjoy an extended run at fullback after starring there in his starting debut in the third Lions test at Eden Park.

Barrett proved his versatility by easily slotting in at centre in the Hurricanes victory over the Crusaders on Saturday night in Wellington but he has made a home at fullback this year. His goal kicking is another valuable asset.

Chiefs utility Damian McKenzie is likely to come back into contention after initially missing out on the All Blacks squad to face the Lions.

Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg has predominately been used on the wing by the All Blacks.

Nehe Milner-Skudder may also force his way back after recently returning from injury.

Smith may not be the only leading All Black to be rested from certain tests this year.

The All Blacks will take a 37-man squad on their end of season tour but have already been open about monitoring workloads and potentially resting some players from the taxing Argentina and South Africa away leg of the Rugby Championship.