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International

Aaron Smith confirms where he will play his rugby post RWC.

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Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

Staying put.

In a major coup for New Zealand Rugby (NZR), the All Blacks most capped number nine and second most capped Highlanders player, halfback Aaron Smith, has put pen to paper – and signed a new two-year deal with NZR and his Super Rugby side.

30-year-old Smith made his All Blacks debut in 2012 and has been a mainstay in the national side ever since, playing 82 Tests to date. He made his Highlanders debut in 2011 and has pulled on the southern team’s Super jersey 129 times.

Smith said he was excited to confirm that his future would be in New Zealand.

“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 percent to the teams I represent,” Smith said.

“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.”

New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew said:

“We’re delighted to have re-signed Aaron through to 2021. He’s a proven world-class player, the most capped All Blacks halfback ever and an incredibly important member of the All Blacks and Highlanders.

“New Zealand Rugby has been working incredibly hard on the retention of our key players and, while it’s inevitable that some will move on following the Rugby World Cup, we’ll still have a core of experience in the All Blacks post 2019, and Aaron will be a key part of that group.

“We know all our players have choices to make on where they play their rugby and that the global environment is challenging, but we feel we have got one of the best environments for players here, with outstanding teams and coaches, and so we congratulate Aaron on his decision.”

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen added: “Nuggy has been such an outstanding player for us over many years and deserves every accolade he gets.

“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.”

Pulse Energy Highlanders Head Coach Aaron Mauger is delighted that Smith has recommitted to the Highlanders for two more years.

“Clearly he has been one of our most influential players, and on the field he’s obviously a big part of the way we like to play the game, so to have the certainty of his services going forward means a great deal to us.’

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark is also excited to get Smith’s signature: “Aaron is one of those once-in-a-generation players who has influenced the way halfbacks play the modern game. His presence over the next few seasons means our next generation of Highlanders will greatly benefit from his experience and ability, which for our organisation is priceless.”

Smith joins a number of established All Blacks who have signed with New Zealand Rugby post 2019, including Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie and Rieko Ioane, with negotiations progressing with a number of other key players.

In other news, Ryan Crotty confirmed he would be leaving NZ Rugby post RWC. Crotty joins a number of All Blacks leaving post RWC. Other high-profile stars set to depart include Kieran Read (Toyota Verblitz), Owen Franks (Northampton), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Toulon), Jordan Taufua (Leicester Tigers), Matt Proctor (Northampton) and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (Wasps).

International

All Black Star to Turn Out for Grassroots Side

An All Blacks legend is set to play for a grassroots outfit in order to gain match fitness ahead of the Rugby World Cup

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Blues and All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams could play for club side Ponsonby for the next two weekends in a bid to gain vital match fitness ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

Williams has been unfortunate with injuries during this years Super Rugby campaign, limiting him to only three starts, making his last appearance on June 15th following 10 weeks out after undergoing knee surgery.

With such a small amount of rugby under his belt in recent months The New Zealand Herald are reporting that his solution is to play for grassroots side Ponsonby.

It is believed that he has already spoken to and agreed terms to play with former All Black Kevin Senio and sevens star Rocky Khan, who are involved with the club.

Williams is a contracted Counties player and had to seek clearance in order to turn out for Ponsonby, which has apparently been granted.

If he is selected, Williams could face Grammar TEC this weekend and Eden the following week in what would be vital game time for the 33-year-old.

Ponsonby has produced the most All Blacks of any grassroots team, including recent stars Rieko and Akira Ioane.

Williams will be desperate to prove himself with the All Blacks starting their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina on July 21st and will be hoping to make it to Japan in the long run as New Zealand seek their third World Cup in a row.

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International

Ireland Star Returns from Injury Lay-Off

Ireland have been handed a massive boost ahead of their World Cup preparations as a key man has confirmed he is fit and ready to go

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Leinster and Ireland lock Devin Toner has confirmed that he is back in training after a nasty knee injury in what will be a huge relief to Joe Schmidt.

Toner went off injured during Leinster’s PRO 14 semi-final win over rivals Munster last month and there was a fear that he had done serious damage.

However, while speaking at a launch of for Energia’s new official energy partnership with Irish Rugby and being title sponsors to the All-Ireland League, the second rower confirmed he has been back training since last week.

“It’s great, I’d say if there was a game coming up, I’d probably be able to play. I’m not doing contact or mauling or anything. I’m just doing kind of linear running and stuff from side-to-side. If I had to play, I would be able to strap it up and be able to play,” he said.

He went on to discuss how the pre-season is working and how he will be raring to go within the next couple of weeks.

“The way pre-season is, we did a hard two-week block. We have a week next week where we still have to kind of train on our own and then we are back in. When we come back in for that week, I’m hell for leather doing everything then, so it’s grand. It could have been a lot worse than what it was,” he added.

Toner, who was unfortunate earlier in the year as he sustained a long-term ankle injury, and admitted he was worried that he would be missing for a long time once more initially but thankfully things weren’t as bad as he thought.

“To me it felt bad because I have never done my knee before. I felt a little bit of a pop, so I thought it was bad, but because I was able to walk off the pitch and put weight on it, they told me it wasn’t too bad. It was a grade-two medial. A lot of lads have done it and said it was grand and that I would be back in five or six weeks,” he finished.

Toner will certainly be on the plane to Japan as long as he can stay fit as Ireland head to the tournament looking to reach a first semi-final at a minimum.

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International

Ferris Wary of Growing Number of Overseas Coaches

Former Ireland international Stephen Ferris is concerned about the lack of home-grown coaches in Ireland

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Former Ireland and Ulster back rower Stephen Ferris is happy with Ireland’s appointment of Mike Catt but is worried about the serious lack of Irish coaches in the country.

Catt was confirmed as Ireland’s new attack coach over the weekend come the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

He became the last piece of future Irish head coach Andy Farrell’s backroom staff, with Farrell set to take the reigns of Ireland head coach when the tournament in Japan concludes.

However, with Farrell and Catt in the Ireland camp and Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree at Leinster and Munster respectively next season, all of England’s coaching group from the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be on Irish shores.

Ferris, who was talking on 2FM’s Game On, admitted that Catt’s appointment makes sense as Farrell prepares to become the main man.

“They probably scoured the market to see who’s out there and Mike Catt obviously has a good relationship with Andy Farrell who is going to become the main man with Ireland. I think it’s a good appointment. Mike Catt is a seasoned professional with 70-odd caps for England and a couple of World Cup finals, so he comes with great pedigree and I think the lads will warm to him nicely,” he said.

However, he also pointed out that he believes there are a bit too many English coaches in Ireland and questioned why there is such a lack of Irish coaches in the backroom staff of the provinces and national set-ups.

“Maybe slightly for me, there’s too much of an English feel around this Irish team at the minute. I think their coaches see teams that are on the up and Munster with the appointment of [Stephen] Larkham as well, he sees that there’s an opportunity there for them to come good. But for me it’s almost like, Jerry Flannery – gone, Felix Jones – gone,” he added.

Ferris ended by saying that he believes Mark McCall could potentially make a future Ireland head coach and also congratulated the English coaches on taking their chances in Ireland.

“I think Mark McCall is the only one that’s really sticking his hand up to say that when Andy Farrell leaves or moves on or gets sacked, you never know, that he might put his hand up to be the next Irish coach. I think fair play to the lads, they’ve seen opportunities, the English guys and they’re going to give it their all and you can’t doubt what they’re going to bring. Look at Lancaster and what he’s brought, Johnny Sexton loves working under him. But fair play to the lads and hopefully they bring a lot to Irish rugby over the coming years,” he finished.

As well as Mike Catt, Farrell has also brought in Leinster man John Fogarty as the national side’s new scrum coach while Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy will continue as forwards specialist and kicking and skills coaches respectively.

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