Ben Smith signs four-year deal with NZRU
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All Black and Highlanders star Ben Smith has committed to New Zealand rugby for the next four years.
The 27-year-old has signed with Otago, the Highlanders and the All Blacks through until 2017 in what's been described as a major deal for New Zealand rugby.
"I have always been proud to wear the Otago, Highlanders and All Blacks jersies and so I'm delighted to be re-signing with New Zealand rugby for the next four years," the Dunedin-born fullback-cum-winger said in a statement.
"Growing up down the road from my Green Island club in Dunedin, rugby was the game I have always loved and I'm loving it still. I look forward to playing my part any way I can over the next few years."
Smith made his debut for the All Blacks in 2009 against Italy and has only played 15 tests since, but outstanding form in a struggling Highlanders team has finally started to be recognised by those outside of the south.
All Black coach Steve Hansen recently nominated Smith as the team's best back during the series win over the French.
"He is an exceptional footballer and down-to-earth team man," Hansen said.
"He is a true professional, is constantly learning and works incredibly hard on developing his game and it has paid dividends. We are delighted for him."
The news is a welcome salve for the Highlanders who had already resigned themselves to losing key backline players Hosea Gear, Tamati Ellison and Kade Poki to overseas contracts before the season had even ended.
Former skipper Jamie Mackintosh this week signalled a move to the Chiefs in 2014.
Smith's retention is a rare piece of good news to come from a terrible Super Rugby campaign.
"Ben has been a star performer for us over the past few seasons and it's outstanding that he has re-signed with New Zealand rugby and the Highlanders," Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said.
"He's not only the type of rugby player the people of the south respect and admire, his qualities as a person make him one of the most respected players within our environment.
Smith has played for Otago since 2007 and has played more than 50 games for the Highlanders.
In 2010 he won Commowealth Games gold with the New Zealand sevens team.
- The Southland Times
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