There are two terms of phrase that make kiwi rugby fans shudder, rightly or wrongly. 'Rest and rotation' has held grave negative undertones despite the concept of resting and rotating players now widely and wisely used around the world in various sporting codes.
A 'sabbatical' doesn't quite have the same perception as it's hard to argue with the value of a sabbatical given how successful the All Blacks were at the 2015 Rugby World Cup; when done well, a sabbatical can benefit all parties involved. In saying that, if a player worthy of a sabbatical, maybe Kieran Read or Brodie Rettalick was granted six months to a year off of All Blacks/Super Rugby duty there would still be a vast swell of whinging and moaning from the kiwi rugby public.
This is why David Pocock's new contract with Australian Rugby Union saw my sporting antenna perk up. Pocock signed a deal with the ARU that will see him play the rest of this season and then spend 2017 studying/generally being the mantis before returning to ACT Brumbies and Wallabies ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Everyone wins as Pocock gets to scratch his adventure/learning itch while the Brumbies and Wallabies are guaranteed to get Pocock back.
Pocock is the best player in Australia, arguably the best player in the world given recent retirements and is also a very sound human being. It goes without saying that the ARU had to bend over backwards to accommodate Pocock's desires, you earn that sort of leverage when you operate in world rugby's upper echelon. I'd go as far as saying that players like Stephen Moore, Michael Hooper and Israel Folau who are all world-class, wouldn't be afforded such leniency. Folau can go play rugby in Japan, sure, however Folau can't take a full year off rugby.
Kiwis who shudder at the thought of an All Black doing something similar, shouldn't be overly concerned as the Pocock x Wallabies situation is pretty damn unique. Rugby in Australia isn't as competitive as it is here and if an All Black were to take a year out of the game, they would most likely struggle to get their spot back as there's no shortage of talent in any position. It's pretty safe to assume that Pocock will walk back into the Wallabies as he's not only a great player, there's also no player in Australia who can genuinely keep Pocock out of the team.
This is also evident in the creativity of the ARU as they are open-minded to these options and have also opened the door for players - who have earned the right by establishing themselves in the Wallabies - in Europe to be eligible for Wallabies' selection. The ARU know they don't have the luxury of depth that Aotearoa has, nor can they match the number of European clubs who can offer more money so they've got to be willing to work with their players to get a mutually beneficial arrangement, kinda like friends with benefits.
Pocock is a unique dude and this situation specifically isn't reflected by either the ARU or New Zealand Rugby Union's dealings. Sabbaticals, as we know them and as has been the case with Folau and previous cases like Dan Carter's have involved other rugby shenanigans, they are/have effectively been money-making sabbaticals - 'we'll let you go fill your treasure chest and a you've got a job here waiting for you'. There is of course Richie McCaw's sabbatical that didn't involve rugby and McCaw took some time off, traveled and generally kicked back, yet even that was only for six months, not a year.
I've come to appreciate Pocock and his adventures outside of rugby, the other difference between Pocock's and McCaw's sabbaticals is that Pocock intends to study. That's extremely refreshing and everything about Pocock is refreshing, from his charity work to helping out locals in Zimbabwe to chaining himself to a tractor or whatever in Australia, it's awesome and the fact that Pocock is a bit of an anomaly is weird. I want to see more rugby players like Pocock, who aren't afraid to do things slightly differently. Following Pocock on throughout his sabbatical could genuinely be as fun as watching his mastery on the rugby field.
However, this situation is very unique. The rarity of a player like Pocock and a situation like he's is what makes it so refreshing as it's not replicating a previous situation nor will it be replicated any time soon. This also shows that the All Blacks and kiwi rugby fans aren't the only folk who hang their hats on World Cup success as the ARU and the Wallabies are willing to endure some short-term pain on the field without Pocock for a year to ensure that they have the best shot of long-term pleasure with the 2019 World Cup on the horizon.