All Blacks and Crusaders captain Richie McCaw will sit out the majority of the 2013 Super Rugby season, it has been confirmed.
New Zealand's 2011 World Cup-winning skipper will take a six-month sabbatical aimed at guaranteeing his fitness for the 2015 World Cup in England.
The move means the 31-year-old flank will lead the All Blacks on this year's November tour to Europe, but will miss the three-Test series against France next June and will not play for the Crusaders until July.
McCaw's contract with the NZRU has a clause for a sabbatical similar to that of fly-half Dan Carter's stint at Perpignan in 2008, but the veteran leader is now set to use the period to rest rather than chase Euros overseas.
Crusaders boss Hamish Riach said the Super Rugby side are happy to let McCaw take a break.
Kieran Read will lead Crusaders next year, as he did during McCaw's injury-enforced absence this year.
"It is definitely going to happen," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told the Sunday Star-Times.
"Richie is going to take a sabbatical. He will probably be available after June. He won't be available for the Tests or Super Rugby, so he's going to get a good break. We've worked this through with all parties and I fully support it.
"He had it written into his contract and he's elected to take it. He's going to see the season out with the All Blacks, then have a break. It will freshen him up and he'll come back and be good for the next couple of years."
"He's probably going to head overseas and have a bit of a holiday, have a break and get away from the game," Blackadder added.
"Super Rugby is now an eight-month programme. It's a lot bigger than it used to be. The succession plan is [Read]. He did a fantastic job this year."