WELLINGTON (Reuters) - All Blacks and Waikato Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick will take a two-year break from New Zealand rugby after the World Cup in Japan in an effort to ensure he is able to continue through to the next global tournament in France in 2023.
Under the terms of the contract announced on Wednesday, the former World Rugby player of the year will play two seasons in Japan’s Top League in 2020 and 2021, with an extended break in between.
Japanese side Kobe Steelers announced on their website that Retallick will join them after the World Cup.
The 28-year-old will then return to New Zealand in 2021 to commit to a new contract through to 2023.
“I still have a desire to play for the All Blacks and hopefully contesting the next World Cup after this one was the big driving goal,” Retallick told reporters in Hamilton on Wednesday.
“I believe the way I’m approaching it will be best for my body and allow me to keep playing at the best standard.
“We are well looked after in New Zealand but there’s no hiding from the fact that Super Rugby and test rugby are hard on the body.
“In the end this was the best scenario where I could look after my body, spend time with my family and experience a different culture and still come back and do what I love.”
Retallick said the quality of Japan’s Top League was improving steadily but would not have the same physical impact on his body as playing in Europe would.
“I was never interested in going to France and playing that style of rugby,” he added.
“Their rugby has definitely improved (in Japan) and there are definitely some tough games over there, but the benefit would definitely be the space in between their seasons where you can clock out for a few months.”
Retallick will join a Kobe side looking to win their third consecutive Top League title.
Last season’s victory came with the help of former All Black Dan Carter, who was named the 2018-2019 MVP and the league’s top kicker.
“I am happy that Brodie joined. He is a world class player and personality,” Kobe coach Dave Dillon said in a statement.
“I am certain he will contribute to the team culture which we have been building and his experience will bring good impact to Kobe Steelers.”
The next Top League season beings in January 2020, following a break after the World Cup.
The announcement of the Chiefs co-captain’s new contract has coincided with his return for the Hamilton-based side after he missed the past two months of Super Rugby with a wrist injury.
The 75-test lock will return for the Chiefs’ final match against the Melbourne Rebels this weekend as they bid to snatch a playoffs place.
NZR has a policy of restricting contracts to home-based players but has relaxed the rule for a number of the nation’s top performers to take sabbaticals or short-term playing agreements in places like Japan.
None, however, have been permitted as long a break as Retallick’s, underlining the esteem the lock is held in New Zealand.
“Having Brodie commit through to the next Rugby World Cup in 2023 is fantastic news for him, his wife Niki and their family, along with New Zealand Rugby,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
“Whilst there’s a playing sabbatical during that time - and Brodie will no doubt be missed - it also gives the future All Blacks coaches the opportunity to build even more depth in that position.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; additional reporting by Jack Tarrant in Tokyo; Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Sudipto Ganguly