All Blacks star Aaron Smith signed a two-year deal with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and Super Rugby side the Highlanders.
Smith, 30, is the second-most capped Highlanders player in history with 129 appearances, while he has played 82 Tests for the All Blacks.
The half-back, whose Highlanders are fourth in the New Zealand Conference, said he always wanted to stay in his homeland.
“From my earliest playing days, my focus has always been about being passionate about the teams I play for and I’ve always enjoyed giving 100 per cent to the teams I represent,” Smith said in a statement on Monday.
“I love representing the Highlanders and the All Blacks and playing my rugby in New Zealand gives me the chance to continue to do that.
“I’m grateful to NZ Rugby and the Highlanders organisation for all the support they’ve given me over my career and for the opportunities they have provided for myself and Teagan going forward.”
BREAKING | 82 test All Black Aaron Smith has re-signed with New Zealand Rugby through to 2021. We’re thrilled that you’re staying in New Zealand Aaron!
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) March 31, 2019
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen praised Smith and said he was vital for his team.
“Nuggy has been such an outstanding player for us over many years and deserves every accolade he gets,” he said.
“He’s a passionate team man, a leader in our team and gives his all to the group. He works incredibly hard on his game and has been incredibly consistent since first coming into the All Blacks.
“The speed of his delivery from the base of the scrum and ruck is a key point of difference and means we can play the game at real pace, which has suited our game.
“It’s fantastic news that he has committed himself to both New Zealand Rugby and the Highlanders and we congratulate him on his decision. It’s also timely to congratulate him and his partner Teagan on their recent engagement and the pending birth of their first child.”
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