Despite still having nearly two months remaining on his sabbatical away from rugby, Highlanders captain Ben Smith has joined his Super Rugby teammates as they begin their pre-season ahead of 2018.
Highlanders captain Ben Smith in action against the Hurricanes.
After a 2017 ravaged by various injuries, Smith missed the All Blacks' end of year tour in order to take time away from the game, helping to refresh the 64-Test fullback for next year, before the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
However, a spanner appears to have been thrown in the works, with Smith supposedly a mainstay at Highlanders HQ as the players return for pre-season training.
Speaking to Fairfax, new Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said Smith was back doing fitness work, and looking in good shape ahead of the new season.
"I think he's enjoying the benefits of it and I think his decision to take that sabbatical and give himself a chance to freshen up, mentally and physically, has been reinforced by the numbers he's pumping out," he said
"He's on flexi time, so it's up to him at the moment. He doesn't have to be here at all."
"But he wants to be in and he wants to be fit for the start of the season. That's his commitment for the team and it's just a good reflection of the character he is and how much he loves this side. That's why he leads this team so well."
The Highlanders are in pre-season camp until December 22, before their Christmas break, returning on January 8.