All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock admits that time in Japan is a career option he's considering but says he won't make his mind up about his future until after the end of year tour.
Whitelock, along with Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick comes off contract after next year's World Cup, and all three are understood to be considering making long-term commitments to New Zealand Rugby that include one or possibly two sabbatical seasons in Japan.
New Zealand Rugby began offering long-serving senior players sabbatical options back in 2008 when Daniel Carter was able to sign a four-year extension that allowed for him to spend six months with French club Perpignan.
Other All Blacks such as Richie McCaw preferred to take non-playing sabbaticals, which he did in 2013 – sitting out the first six months of the year so he could mentally and physically recuperate.
Whitelock, still only 29, is believed to want to have a crack at being part of the All Blacks 2023 World Cup campaign, but feels that after 10 seasons with the Crusaders and national side, he'll need some kind of break to make it that far.
Hence the option of playing in Japan after next year's World Cup. "I am going to make a few decisions after the end of year tour but at the moment I am pretty excited to get into rugby here," he said.
The attraction of Japan is three-fold: a club stint will be exceptionally well paid, the rugby will be less physical but still challenging and it will provide an opportunity to experience a foreign land.
Interestingly, Whitelock, whose older brother George spent time playing in Japan, hinted that the cultural experience is what interests him the most.
"I have been to Japan a couple of times through promotions and I played here with New Zealand Universities. I understand a little bit about the way it operates over here.
"There are a number of people I have played with and against who have played in Japan.
My older brother played here for one year and he enjoyed the culture and the new challenges that it brought and a number of the Kiwi guys love it. Some guys come for a year or two and others come for a long time.
"It is cool to know there is a connection there and I am sure when we play on Saturday a number of those guys will be in the crowd."
But he reiterated that his career-planning will be on hold for some weeks yet as the priority is to complete a Bledisloe Cup whitewash.
The All Blacks failed to do that last year when, after winning the first two tests, they lost in Brisbane.
If there was a lesson to take from that game it was to understand that the Wallabies, no matter their previous form or results, will find a way to raise their game when they play the All Blacks.
The Bledisloe Cup may be dead in the sense that New Zealand have retained the trophy but the Wallabies are forever playing for their futures as they try to keep rugby on the sporting map.
It's not an exaggeration to say that there are a few individuals in the Australian camp – particularly the assistant coaching group – whose careers remain on the line due to the fact only three victories have been posted in nine tests this year.
"It's the Wallabies…they may have lost some games in the Rugby Championship but whenever they play us you can tell that they have really backed themselves to beat us," said All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor.
"It is our challenge to go out there this week, knowing we have played them twice and been successful to do it again in the third one, because last year we didn't do it. We lost so I am just looking forward to getting stuck into them again."
Not only are the All Blacks aware of what happened last year, but so too are they cognitive of what happened the last time they played a test on neutral soil.
That was back in 2016 when they lost to Ireland in Chicago and in retrospect All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believed his team had been distracted in their preparation.
In the week leading up to the test, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years and the city was in party mode, with the victory parade estimated to be the sixth largest gathering of humans in history.
Hansen felt his squad got caught up in the hype and failed to perform anywhere near their best as a result.
"We have been here for a couple of days and that has been really good for us to get out and enjoy what Japan has to offer," said Taylor.
"Since last night the boys have switched into normal test week mode and today it really feels like that. We are ready to face an Aussie team that will be up for the challenge and that is where our mindset is at this week."