All Blacks vice captain Ben Smith has confirmed next month's two Bledisloe Cup Tests will be his last rugby matches of 2017.
World-class fullback Smith said, through his manager, that he is taking up a sabbatical clause in his contract following the second Rugby Championship Test against the Wallabies in home town Dunedin on August 26.
In a move which had been widely forecast, Smith wants a break to help him best prepare physically and mentally for the 2019 World Cup, when he will be 33.
His manager, Warren Alcock, revealed the 63-Test veteran had originally intended to take the rest of the year off after Super Rugby.However, injury had reduced his 2017 workload considerably, leaving him keen to face the Australians.
Head and ankle issues meant Smith played nine of the Highlanders' 16 Super Rugby matches, including last week's quarter-final loss to the Crusaders.
Smith's unavailability for the last eight Tests of 2017 opens the door for 20-year-old Hurricane Jordie Barrett to stake a long-term claim.
Other fullback contenders are Chiefs livewire Damian McKenzie and Crusaders veteran Israel Dagg.