Veteran hooker Keven Mealamu has become the latest player to opt for a ‘sabbatical’ during next year’s Super Rugby competition.
Only, his absence from the game will be a lot shorter than the six-month holiday afforded to All Black captain Richie McCaw.
Mealamu has also given up the Blues captaincy.
The Blues and New Zealand Rugby Union on Thursday announced that Mealamu will extend his leave period for several weeks, and start his Super Rugby season in March.
The 102-Test veteran, who just returned to New Zealand on Thursday with the All Blacks, plans to take a well-deserved rest after a huge 2012 season which started in February and only concluded last weekend.
This extended leave means Mealamu will miss the first three matches of the Blues’ season and will return to the fray on 18 March after the Blues’ bye and before they play the Waratahs in Sydney.
Mealamu has chosen to exercise one of several options negotiated in his latest NZRU contract which runs through to the end of 2013.
“It’s a total break away from the routines of the game so that I can enjoy some downtime and chill out with my family before getting back into it in a few months’ time,” Mealamu said.
“It’s been a great season with the All Blacks, but we were very disappointed with our Blues results this year so I am keen to come back strongly to contribute to a much better campaign in 2013,” he added.
“I have asked JK [head coach John Kirwan] to not appoint me as captain for the Blues in 2013 recognising that he and the team will want the skipper to lead from the start of the season. I am very grateful for the way JK has approached these matters to allow me to have this break.”
Kirwan said he was supportive of Mealamu’s desire to keep playing at the top level for as long as possible.
“We recognised that in order to do that for the long term, as well as give his best to the Blues next year, it would be important and very sensible for Keven to take a break at the start of the season,” Kirwan said.
“Relinquishing the captaincy followed naturally and it shows he is thinking of the team first which is what Keven always does,” he added.
Blues CEO Andy Dalton said Mealamu’s commitment to the Blues has always been exemplary.
“Keven is hugely respected as a man and a player who gives so much to rugby and he has no doubt earned this right. We will however, be very pleased to see him back in the Blues No.2 jersey in March.”
NZRU Chief Executive Steve Tew said Mealamu was one of the hardest working men in rugby both on and off the field.
“Keven has only just returned today [Thursday] from his off-shore rugby commitments, and it’s entirely understandable that he will want to take a long break to spend more time with his family.
“He has been an outstanding leader on the field, and off it, he is still a true gentleman. He did an outstanding job fronting for the Blues 2012 during a trying Super Rugby season, and this year he became just the third All Black to achieve 100 All Blacks Test matches.
“This is a sensible break for Keven, and one we hope will allow him to keep performing at that top level for a lot longer,” Tew said.