All Blacks vice-captain Ben Smith has signed a long-term deal with his Super Rugby side the Highlanders and the All Blacks that will see him remain in New Zealand through to 2020.
The signing of the 30-year-old is a big win for New Zealand rugby who were fending off several interested parties in the UK and France.
As part of the deal Smith will also have the option of an extended non-playing break from the game in order to manage his workload and an early termination option post Rugby World Cup 2019.
Smith has been a consistently outstanding back for both the All Blacks and the Highlanders and has earned 60 Test caps since his debut in 2009, as well as a World Cup title in 2015 and a Super Rugby title in the same year.
“It’s been an interesting few months as we have worked through what was best for my family and career over the next few years. In the end we are happy with our decision to stay in New Zealand,” Smith said.
“Obviously, the All Blacks, the Highlanders and Otago are three teams that I really enjoy playing for, and I’m pretty excited about a few of the opportunities and challenges we’ll have over the next few seasons.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the long-term deal was important for New Zealand rugby.
“To have the most consistent player in world rugby re-signing is great news for New Zealand rugby and a real credit to our game,” Hansen said.
“It’s a real confidence booster for us to keep a player of this calibre in our country and we now look forward with excitement knowing that our Vice-Captain is going to be with us through to 2020.”