All Blacks vice-captain Ben Smith said Tuesday he had signed up to stay with the world champions until 2020, fending off interest from cashed-up French clubs.
The 30-year-old fullback said that after much deliberation he opted to remain with New Zealand and the Otago Highlanders Super Rugby team.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“In the end we are happy with our decision to stay in New Zealand.”
The All Blacks do not pick overseas-based players, so a move to France would have meant missing this year’s British and Irish Lions tour, as well as the 2019 World Cup.
“I’m pretty excited about a few of the opportunities and challenges we’ll have over the next few seasons,” said Smith, who was a key part of New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup triumph.
After a quiet start to his international career, Smith has become an All Blacks mainstay in recent years, scoring 27 tries in his 60 Tests.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said he was delighted to have retained “the most consistent player in world rugby”.
“It’s a real confidence-booster for us to keep a player of this calibre in our country,” he said.
“We now look forward with excitement knowing that our vice-captain is going to be with us through to 2020.”
Top 14 outfit Pau were Smith’s most ardent suitors in France, but club president Bernard Pontneau said on Monday that “for now it’s dead”.
“The call of his country was stronger,” he added. – Agence France-Presse