All Blacks captain Kieran Read could be set for a sabbatical ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, according to New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) boss Steve Tew.
Read, 31, will celebrate his 34th birthday during the World Cup in Japan and the NZRU are open to the idea of allowing the 97-cap veteran to take a long-term break beforehand.
Former skipper Richie McCaw took a six-month break at the beginning of 2013 to refresh himself before the World Cup last year.
And Read - who is under contract until 2017 - could follow in McCaw's footsteps, with Tew saying: "We've proven over a long period of time now that we'll sit down with each player and, within reason, be incredibly flexible.
"If that's what any player wanted and we believed it merited in terms of their tenure and loyalty, and their workload, we'd consider that."
Read, who underwent wrist surgery two weeks ago, is set to be sidelined from Super Rugby action until April.
And Crusaders have now opted to replace Read as captain, with Sam Whitelock named skipped on Monday.
"Sam captained the team at the beginning of last season, until Kieran Read's return. But this year we want him to fully step into the role," said head coach Scott Robertson.
"Kieran has been an excellent captain, he is a courageous leader who the players admire and love, but this will allow Kieran to focus on just playing and enjoying himself in the Crusaders environment, rather than juggling the responsibility of being both All Blacks and BNZ Crusaders captain.
"It will also allow Sam to really take ownership of this position and influence the team in his own way."