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).
Munster Confirm Three New Signings
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm the signing of Oli Jager from the Crusaders with the tighthead prop signing a contract until the summer of 2027.
Hooker Eoghan Clarke is rejoining Munster on a short-term contract with back three player Colm Hogan also returning on a short-term deal.
Jager will join the province in the coming weeks with his contract beginning at the start of December.
Born in London, Jager started out at Naas RFC before playing schools rugby at Newbridge College and Blackrock College. He lined out for the Ireland U18 Schools team in 2013 before moving to Canterbury in New Zealand at the age of 17.
Initially attending the Crusaders International High Performance Unit, he earned a place in the Crusaders Academy in 2014. After impressing with New Brighton RFC, he earned a place in the Canterbury squad for the Mitre 10 Cup in 2016.
Jager made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2017 and has been a key member of their squad for the past seven years, winning seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.
Eoghan Clarke spent three years in the Munster Academy before departing for Jersey Reds in March 2021. A former Ireland U20 international, Clarke won the English Championship with Jersey Reds last season before the club went into liquidation last month.
Colm Hogan, who has lined out for Ireland U20 and Munster A in the past, played his schools rugby with Glenstal Abbey. He captained Dublin University in the AIL and also had a spell with Colomiers in the PRO D2 while studying in France.
The 26-year-old played for Leinster against Chile last year and lined out with recent Munster arrival Alex Nankivell for Tasman Mako in the NPC this year.
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Key All Black announces sabbatical to play in Japan
All Blacks captain Sam Cane will take up a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby (NZR) contract in 2024 to play a season for Suntory in Japan League One.
The 31-year-old, 95-Test loose forward will miss the 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season with the Chiefs, but will return to New Zealand in June to be available for selection to the All Blacks for the 2024 Steinlager Series and Rugby Championship campaign.
Cane, who is contracted to NZR through to the end of 2025, said he was looking forward to experiencing a new playing environment with Suntory and learning more about a new culture in Japan.
“When the opportunity to play for Suntory in 2024 came up it felt like the right time following the Rugby World Cup to try something new and also a great chance to continue to grow and learn in my rugby and life journey. I’m grateful to New Zealand Rugby for their support to take this opportunity.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to skip a season with the Chiefs, but I know the team is in a great place and has an incredible group of leaders in the squad and the coaching group to have a successful 2024, and I’m really pleased to be able to return in time to put my best foot forward for selection in the All Blacks.”
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said:
“Sam’s decision to take a sabbatical in 2024 has our full support and we wish him and his family all the best for their time in Japan. There are very few players who have given as much as he has to the jerseys he’s worn in his career to date and it’s a mark of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the Test season.”
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said:
“Sam has given everything to this team on and off the field and deserves to take this opportunity to experience something different. He is an exceptional player and influential leader who has been an integral part of the Gallagher Chiefs for many years. We wish him and his family all the best and hope they enjoy their time in Japan after a full-on year.”
Key All Black commits to Gallagher Chiefs until 2025
Dominant loose forward Luke Jacobson has extended his contract with the Gallagher Chiefs, Waikato and New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2025.
The 18-test All Black was a consistent starter for the Gallagher Chiefs this year and a key element of their outstanding DHL Super Rugby Pacific performances. He consequently went on to be named in the All Blacks squad to travel to France.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is delighted to have Jacobson sticking around for another two seasons.
“Luke is an outstanding player; he’s a workhorse, a consistent performer and considered a real warrior within our group. Luke leads by example both on and off the field. He isnt one to waste words and prefers to let his actions speak for themself. In the absence of some senior players who have moved on, I have no doubt Luke will play an integral part providing the leadership and guidance our younger players will be looking for”.
Jacobson has impressed throughout his career, playing for the New Zealand U20s team twice and captaining them in his second season to win the 2017 U20 World Championship title. This aptitude for leadership has seen him pull on the Gallagher Chiefs captain’s armband on multiple occasions.
Waikato Rugby head coach Ross Filipo is excited about Luke extending his career with Waikato. “He is a great man and a great leader who continues to make huge contributions on and off the field and always represents the region with pride.”
Speaking on his signing Jacobson said: “I’m stoked to signing on with the Waikato, Chiefs and NZR for another two years. I love representing these teams and am very proud to be able to call myself a Waikato/Chiefs man and also and All black. I’m hungry to succeed with these teams and tick off a few unticked boxes.”
The 2024 Gallagher Chiefs squad will be named later this year ahead of assembling for pre-season training.