VIDEO: All Blacks keep their 'vital cog'
NEWS: New Zealand rugby managed to keep one of their most prized assets.
Seasoned scrumhalf Aaron Smith signed a contract extension Tuesday, taking him through to the next World Cup – with coach Ian Foster describing him as a “vital cog” in New Zealand’s plans.
A World Cup winner in 2015, Smith will be just shy of his 34th birthday when the next tournament’s edition is held in France in 2023.
Foster said the 97-Test veteran remained at the top of his game.
“He is so instrumental in the way we play the game and is such a vital cog for us, both on and off the field, so this is fantastic news,” the coach said.
Smith conceded his advancing years may mean “I have to adapt and work a little harder” but he was relishing the prospect of playing again with the three-time world champions.
“Last year was a tough one for sport, but hopefully we’ll soon see the world rugby calendar start to take shape and there’ll be plenty of exciting new challenges to look forward to,” he said.
Smith will remain with the Otago Highlanders Super Rugby club for the duration of his New Zealand Rugby contract.
All Black, Highlanders and Manawatū Turbos fans will be celebrating the news.
Smith played his 151st game for the Highlanders this past weekend and is the most capped All Black scrumhalf of all time (97 Tests).
He made his provincial debut for Manawatū in 2008, Super Rugby debut in 2011 and Test debut a year later.
He has been the first-choice scrumhalf for the Highlanders and All Blacks since then, and remains at the top of his game.
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“I guess I have to adapt and work a little harder than I did back in 2011, but one thing that hasn’t changed is my love for the Highlanders, the All Blacks and Manawatū,” Smith said.
“The decision to stay is based on a number of things, but I’m very keen to see the Highlanders do well, we have a good environment here and some great, young players, so I think the next few years will be exciting for us and it’ll be great to be part of it,” he added.
Smith said he was also looking forward to what the future held for the All Blacks.
“Last year was a tough one for sport, but hopefully we’ll soon see the world rugby calendar start to take shape and there’ll be plenty of exciting, new challenges to look forward to.”
Smith said his commitment to the Highlanders also reflected his affinity with the team’s home base.
“Dunedin has been good to me. My wife Teagan and I have a home and a business here and our son Luka was born here. I felt that committing to the Highlanders for another few years in some small way says thanks for all the support we have enjoyed over the years.”
Highlanders coach Tony Brown is also delighted to have his star scrumhalf recommit to the team for the next few years.
“As co-captain, ‘Nug’ is a huge part of this team. His leadership, commitment, drive and skill are all key aspects of his contribution to the Highlanders. He continues to be world class and works extremely hard to maintain it. That hard work and professionalism is a fantastic example to the rest of the team, particularly the young fellows coming into the team.”
Manawatū Rugby CEO Shannon Paku added: “We are excited to have Aaron back for another two seasons with Manawatū. He is a man who commands a huge amount of mana in our province. Aaron’s extraordinary career while being a loyal and proud Manawatū man is proof of the heights achievable for players from our region.
“Aaron’s commitment to the green and white jersey is undeniable and even though his game time is limited by his All Blacks commitments, his experience and advice to the younger members of our high performance squad is invaluable.”