Backline star Beauden Barrett will miss next year's Super Rugby season to play in Japan but return to New Zealand in time to resume international duties with the All Blacks, the Auckland Blues said Friday.
The Blues said two-time World Rugby player of the Year would join Tokyo-based Suntory Sungoliath next year, exercising an option to play in Japan that was included in a contract he signed last year.
Under the deal, Barrett will miss Super Rugby in 2021 but play for the All Blacks later that year, remaining in New Zealand during until the 2023 World Cup.
"For me it made sense to go next year and then have two years back with the Blues and hopefully the All Blacks in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup," the 29-year-old said.
The announcement comes after reports from Britain that Barrett would be unavailable for the All Blacks for two seasons while playing in Japan, which proved wide of the mark.
In recent years, NZR has been forced to let elite players top up their bank accounts with stints playing overseas in order to prevent them being tempted offshore permanently by lucrative offers.
Fellow All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have similar arrangements allowing them to play in Japan while under contract to NZR.
Japan is NZR's preferred destination for All Blacks taking playing sabbaticals because it is considered less physically demanding that European club rugby.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he always expected to be without Barrett during the 2021 season.
"He will be a big loss but that is countered with what he is doing on and off the field this year, and that we get him for two more years," he said.