Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith to leave NZ shores after World Cup

Tue, Feb 7
Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith.

All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith have signed for Japanese club Toyota from 2024, with Smith likely to play his last season in New Zealand this year.

The experienced duo will play for the Highlanders and Blues respectively in Super Rugby Pacific this season and will be available for the All Blacks through to the end of the Rugby World Cup in France.

Both have signed with Toyota, with Smith committing to a long-term contract that will likely mean 2023 will be his last season in New Zealand. New Zealand Rugby is continuing to negotiate with Barrett about a potential return to New Zealand beyond 2024.

Speaking on whether he would return to New Zealand, Barrett said: "I want to give myself time to ensure I make the right decision and once I gain clarity on that I will be able to give an update on what my future looks like beyond 2024."

The pair are the two most-capped backs in All Blacks history. Smith (114 caps) and Barrett (112 caps) are also part of a limited group of players to have won Rugby World Cup and Super Rugby titles.

Smith played a crucial part of the Highlanders' maiden Super Rugby title in 2015 and is the franchise's most capped player, having taken to the field in the blue and gold 176 times.

"From the time I signed my first professional contract in 2008 I’ve been living my dream. I have been blessed to represent my home with the Manawatū Turbos, who helped me chase my dream of being a Super Rugby player,” Smith said.

“I have to say a big thanks to the Highlanders for believing in me. I have done it all with that team and they have always been there for me. Thank you to every Highlanders player, staff member and fan. You have given me everything and more in the 13 years we have had together."

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said the team and fans would love to see Smith play with the Highlanders forever, but "unfortunately that is not a reality in professional rugby".

"The time has come to say thank you, good luck and goodbye. We wish him, Teagan, Luka and Leo all the very best in Japan, and I would encourage everyone to come out this season and watch the master at work one last time.”

Blues CEO Andrew Hore said the team had loved having Barrett at the franchise since his move north from the Hurricanes in 2020.

"He has signalled the door is still open for a return to rugby here in New Zealand and we would absolutely welcome him, Hannah and the kids back to the Blues whānau in the future.”


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