allblacks.com 04.Jul.2013Getty Images
One of the stars of the All Blacks' recent Steinlager Test Series - All Blacks, Highlanders and Otago back Ben Smith - has re-signed with New Zealand Rugby, the Highlanders and the Otago RFU for another four years.
The re-signing of the multi-talented Smith through to 2017 is a major deal for New Zealand Rugby.
Smith, who can play wing, fullback or centre, was dubbed the "back of the Series" by All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen after starring in his three starts in the Steinlager Series against the French. He scored two tries in the second and third Tests, had a hand in several others and was a constant threat on attack and solid on defence in a classy all-round performance in June.
27-year-old Smith said he was looking forward to his future in New Zealand and the South.
"I have always been proud to wear the Otago, Highlanders and All Blacks jerseys and so I'm delighted to be re-signing with New Zealand Rugby for the next four years. 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."
Steve Hansen said the re-signing of Smith was fantastic news: "He is an exceptional footballer and a down-to-earth team man. 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."
Highlanders General Manager Roger Clark said: "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. 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."
Richard Kinley, General Manager of the Otago RFU added: "The ORFU are thrilled to have Ben as part of Otago Rugby. He epitomises everything that the Union is aiming to achieve: creating opportunities and pathways for all our players to be the best they can. We see him as the face of Otago Rugby, being a local player that has been followed and looked up to by young players and fans across the region."
Ben Smith has now played 15 Tests for the All Blacks since making his debut in 2009 and has been a key member of many New Zealand teams. After playing for the New Zealand Under 21 side and making his provincial debut for Otago in 2007, Smith made his entry into Super Rugby with the Highlanders in 2009 and has been a regular selection in the starting side since then, playing his 50th match last year. He was first selected for the All Blacks on the back of an outstanding 2009 season and made his Test debut against Italy on the All Blacks' end of year tour. His form continued in 2010 and he was the standout Otago back during the ITM Cup. Smith was also selected for the All Blacks Sevens team that won gold at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Smith is the latest in a growing list of All Blacks who have recommitted to New Zealand Rugby, and today's news follows last week's announcement that Dane Coles and Jeremy Thrush had signed through to 2016 and 2015 respectively. Other recent All Blacks who have committed to New Zealand rugby for the next few seasons, include captain Richie McCaw, playmaker Daniel Carter and props Ben Franks and Wyatt Crockett and lock Brodie Retallick (all signed to 2015); the All Blacks most capped prop Tony Woodcock and fellow props Owen Franks and Charlie Faumuina, hookers Hikawera Elliot and Corey Flynn, lock Luke Romano, loose forward Victor Vito, halfbacks Piri Weepu, Andy Ellis and Aaron Smith, first five-eighth Aaron Cruden, midfielder Conrad Smith and outside backs Israel Dagg and Cory Jane (all through to 2014).