Kieran Read is set to sign a long-term deal that will keep him in New Zealand rugby beyond the 2015 World Cup.
Read caused angst after the 2011 Webb Ellis Cup triumph by committing for just one year. But the world-class No 8 had no intentions of heading overseas. He was thought to be waiting on a wage increase under the pending players' collective agreement and a lucrative sponsorship deal with insurance giant AIG to ensure his value was matched with a suitable offer.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew told Sunday News this week Read had been offered a contract through to 2016 which included some "flexibility to prolong his career".
In essence, Read will join the increasing number of top All Blacks who also have leave options.
Tew expects to hear back from Read's management after the French series and Sunday News understands he is close to accepting the three-year extension, which could make him one of New Zealand's highest paid players.
Tew also revealed to Sunday News that All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster and scrum guru Mike Cron will soon have their contracts extended through to the world cup.
In the past year, Read, who has played 51 tests, captained the All Blacks four times against Italy and France. The 27-year-old is a major part of future plans and securing his services will be a relief.
If Richie McCaw is injured between now and the next world cup in England, Read is ready to assume the captaincy. He is also a crucial leader for the Crusaders.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen highlighted his development in the successful series against the French. Few will forget his memorable 50-metre charge in Christchurch.
"He's been outstanding in this campaign," Hansen said. "He's led well. He's responded to the challenge of leadership by playing well. We've known he's a world-class player for some time now and this series has reinforced that. He's a pretty vital ingredient to our team.
"There's many spokes that make the world go round but his spoke is an important one.
"He has a presence on the park in every test. He's set a standard and we've just got to keep maintaining that."
Hansen is also confident there will be a smooth transition of the captaincy between Read and McCaw in the Rugby Championship.
"We are hoping so," he said. "They've both been through this before with the Crusaders. They've both got a huge amount of respect for each other and the team respects both of them immensely.
"What we have done with Read's time as captain is grow his confidence as a leader. They'll work in tandem along with the other leaders. That's been vitally important for us over the last few years."
Sunday News also understands Ben Smith has everything he asked for in his next contract. It would be a surprise if he, too, did not commit long-term.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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