NZRU lock in six pivotal All Blacks until 2016
Fears of a mass post-World Cup All Blacks exodus continue to ease with halves Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett headlining the latest group to extend their contracts past the 2015 tournament.
The New Zealand Rugby Union announced today Highlanders halfback Smith, the Hurricanes trio of Barrett, halfback TJ Perenara and prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, as well as Crusaders lock Dominic Bird and openside Matt Todd would all stick around until the end of 2016.
The six-strong group join 10 current or former All Blacks already locked in past the World Cup including seven through until the end of the 2017.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen hailed the group's commitment to stay and ply their trade in New Zealand, noting they remained a young playing group.
"It's great news for the All Blacks and New Zealand rugby, especially with a large number of talented, young players re-committing to the country. It bodes well for the future."
The latest group of signings join hooker Dane Coles, lock Luke Romano and midfielder Sonny Bill Williams in confirming they will play through the season immediately following next year's World Cup.
No 8 Kieran Read, prop Owen Franks, fullback Israel Dagg, lock Samuel Whitelock, first five-eighth Aaron Cruden and wings Cory Jane and Ben Smith have all signed through to 2017.
Those players will ensure the All Blacks remain in fine fettle when the British and Irish Lions arrive in two year's time.
However, for all that New Zealand rugby is unlikely to escape the now predictable four-yearly raids on top test players from Southern Hemisphere.
Two key All Blacks props, 110-Test veteran Tony Woodcock, and his 20-test Blues teammate Charlie Faumuina, as well as Crusaders utility back Tom Taylor have also re-signed with the NZRU, but notably only through to the end of 2015.
And they're not alone.
Others likely to weigh their options following rugby's show-case event include global superstars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
Loose forwards Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Steven Luatua and Luke Whitelock, hooker Keven Mealamu, props Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett and Ben Afeaki, locks Brodie Retallick and Jeremy Thrush, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, first five-eighth Colin Slade, midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Francis Saili, as well as outside backs Julian Savea and Charles Piutau will all come off contract in 2015.
In a perfect world the NZRU would keep them all, but no doubt the priority will be to lock in rising stars like Cane, Retallick, Savea, Kerr-Barlow, Saili and Piutau.
Older players may be tougher to sign as big-spending clubs in Europe and Japan circle for those getting older or on the fringe of All Blacks selection.
The Dominion Post