All Blacks Ben Smith to join Pau after World Cup
New Zealand fullback is first senior player to announce move overseas post-Japan
Ben Smith has played 76 Tests for the All Blacks, making his debut in 2009 before being cast into the wilderness for three years. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
All Blacks fullback Ben Smith will leave New Zealand after next year’s World Cup in Japan and join French club Pau, New Zealand Rugby said on Thursday.
The 32-year-old Smith had long been expected to quit New Zealand after the global showpiece and seek an overseas contract.
“In your heart you want to play forever, but in your head you know that’s not possible,” Smith said on his move to Pau. “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.”
Smith has played 76 Tests for the All Blacks, making his debut in 2009 before being cast into the wilderness for three years.
Since then he has been ever-present under Steve Hansen and won the World Cup in 2015, even though he was yellow carded in their 34-17 victory over Australia in the final. “Ben will leave New Zealand with the very best wishes of everyone involved in the All Blacks,” said Hansen.
“He’s a special person and an outstanding rugby player who has always given – and will continue to give – 100 per cent 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 want to congratulate him on everything he has achieved.”
Smith is the most senior All Blacks player in World Cup contention to confirm his departure, however captain Kieran Read has also said that he was exploring a move overseas after the tournament in Japan.
Senior lock Sam Whitelock and outhalf Beauden Barrett have also been reported by local media to be mulling new contracts with sabbatical clauses to allow them an opportunity to play overseas then return to New Zealand in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.