All Blacks vice-captain Ben Smith has inked a deal with New Zealand Rugby, which will see him play his rugby in New Zealand through to 2020.
In what is a key re-signing for his respective teams, the outside back has signed with New Zealand Rugby, the Highlanders and Otago Rugby.
30-year-old Smith made his Test debut in 2009 and the fan favourite has been in a rich vein of form in recent years.
He has scored 27 tries in his 60 Tests to date, was nominated for five national and international awards, including international Player of the Year in the All Blacks’ unbeaten 2013 season, was a key part of the All Blacks Rugby World Cup-winning team in 2015, co-captained the Super Rugby champion Highlanders team the same year, and is a Super Rugby centurion.
"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 told the All Blacks website.
"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." he added.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said they were delighted Smith had committed long-term to New Zealand.
"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. 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," he said.
"Obviously, it’s taken a wee while to reach an agreement but good things take time. On behalf of the All Blacks, I’d personally like to thank ‘Bender’ and his wife Katie, his agent Warren Alcock, the New Zealand Rugby Board, CEO Steve Tew and Manager of Player Contracting and Relationships Ben Castle, all of whom played a major part in getting this deal done."
Highlanders Head Coach Tony Brown echoed Hansen’s comments: "It's fantastic news that Bender has decided to stay. I know these decisions are never easy, but now that it's done, we are looking forward to having him back leading the side again.
"As a coach you can't ask for much more from your players than he provides us week after week, but more than being the consummate professional and a great rugby player, he’s just an outstanding Highlander Man."
New Zealand Rugby has also confirmed that as part of the long-term deal, Smith also has an 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.