WELLINGTON: All Blacks and Waikato Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick will take a two-year break from New Zealand rugby after the World Cup in Japan before returning in 2021 to commit to a new contract through to 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, New Zealand Rugby said.
He will return to rugby in New Zealand in May 2021 and play through to the end of the 2023 season, raising the prospect of Retallick making a third World Cup appearance in France.
"It has been a big decision to make, but I'm grateful to be able to have the opportunity to head over to Japan and experience not just the rugby but for my family and (I) to be immersed in another culture," the 28-year-old said in a media release.
"I've been playing high-octane rugby with the ... Chiefs and All Blacks since 2012, and while I've loved every minute of it and my workload has been managed well, I've decided to give my body a break from the New Zealand game, so that ultimately I can extend my career here."
Chiefs co-captain Retallick has missed the past two months of Super Rugby after suffering a wrist injury midseason.
The 75-test lock is expected to return for the final match against the Melbourne Rebels this weekend as the Chiefs 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.
"I congratulate NZR on being inventive in their contracting process, as there would have been many offers for him to leave permanently."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)