Blues' Beauden Barrett to play in Japan, miss Super Rugby in 2021

New Zealand fly-half Beauden Barrett will miss Super Rugby next year and play for Suntory Sungoliath in Japan's Top League, but he will be available for the three-times world champions' international programme, the Blues said on Friday.

Barrett last year signed a four-year contract with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Blues through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France which included an option of a playing sabbatical overseas.

"The arrangement is similar to what was in place for Beaudy's All Blacks team mates Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock who played in Japan this year," NZR's Head of Professional Rugby Chris Lendrum said in a statement.

"That flexibility in our contracting is key: it allows our top players to refresh in a different rugby environment but remain committed to New Zealand Rugby which, in the long term, is great for both parties."

British media had reported that Barrett, twice World Player of the Year, had signed a two-year contract worth about NZ$1.5 million (AU$977,000) a year, which would have made him ineligible for the All Blacks until 2023.

The Blues, however, said he would only miss Super Rugby and be available for the All Blacks in 2021.

Barrett made the shift north to the Blues this year after nine seasons with the Hurricanes, but had an extended off-season following last year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.

He did not play in the full Super Rugby competition before it was suspended due to the COVID-19 shutdown but made his debut for the Blues against the Hurricanes in the domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa competition that started last month.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald, who has been playing Barrett at fullback, said the side had been well prepared for losing the 29-year-old for the 2021 season.

"He will be a big loss," MacDonald said. "But that is countered with what he is doing on and off the field this year, and that we get him for two more years."