All Blacks outside back Ben Smith has confirmed that he will be leaving New Zealand Rugby at the end of the 2019 season.
32-year-old Smith, who has played 76 Tests for the All Blacks and 144 games for the Highlanders, has signed a contract with French club Pau and will leave New Zealand following what is expected to be his swansong, at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
"I'm excited about the opportunities that may present themselves in the future, but I also realise that my playing time with Otago, the Highlanders and the All Blacks now has an end point," Smith said in a statement.
"In your heart you want to play forever, but in your head you know that's not possible. In the playing time I have remaining, I'm pretty keen to experience a fresh, new challenge. I think it will be good to be involved in a new environment and a foreign culture for a while, I'm sure it will be a bit of an adventure for both myself and my family."
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen added: "Ben will leave New Zealand with the very best wishes of everyone involved in the All Blacks. He's a special person and an outstanding rugby player who has always given - and will continue to give - 100 percent to the All Blacks jersey.
"He has been a key member of the All Blacks leadership group for many years and captained the team against Samoa last year. We'll get to thank Ben, his wife Katie and his family personally for his contribution to New Zealand Rugby next year, when the All Blacks season resumes, but for now we want to congratulate him on everything he has achieved."
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.