February 7, 2017 / 3:54 AM / 6 months ago

Rugby-Smith gives All Blacks boost by rebuffing overseas offers

WELLINGTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - All Blacks fullback Ben Smith has given coach Steve Hansen a massive boost by rebuffing lucrative offers from European clubs and re-signing with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) until 2020.

The 30-year-old Smith made the announcement on Tuesday on his Facebook page. The decision was later confirmed by both NZR and Smith's Super Rugby side, the Otago Highlanders.

"We've made the decision, I'm going to stay with the ... Highlanders and the All Blacks," Smith wrote. "Exciting times ahead for me and the family."

Hansen said he was pleased Smith had chosen to remain in New Zealand until after the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019. Players must be based in New Zealand to be eligible to play for the All Blacks.

"To have the most consistent player in world rugby re-signing is great news for New Zealand rugby and a real credit to our game," Hansen said in the NZR statement.

"It's a real confidence booster for us to keep a player of this calibre in our country and we now look forward with excitement knowing that our vice-captain is going to be with us through to 2020."

Smith made his test debut in 2009 but did not establish himself in the side until 2012 under current coach Hansen.

He has gone on to become one of the first names on Hansen's team sheet, whether on the wing or his preferred fullback position, and was promoted to vice captain of the team in 2016.

He notched his 60th cap last year in the 21-9 victory over Ireland in Dublin.

Smith was one of three All Blacks players targeted by European clubs over the southern hemisphere summer along with flyhalf Aaron Cruden and fullback Israel Dagg.

French and British media had reported that Smith was being offered in excess of NZ$1 million a season to head north.

Cruden said last month that he was joining Montpellier after the Super Rugby season ends in August.

Dagg's playing future is still undecided, though his former All Blacks team mate and good friend Cory Jane said last week he expected him to stay in New Zealand because he was still playing well enough to be picked for the national side.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Napier, New Zealand; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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