Rugby-All Blacks Smith, Barrett to head to Japan's Toyota after World Cup

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - International - Wales v New Zealand - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, Britain - November 5, 2022 New Zealand's Aaron Smith celebrates scoring their fourth try Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

(Reuters) - Veteran All Blacks Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett will head to Japan after the World Cup in France to play with Toyota Verblitz, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said on Tuesday.

Scrumhalf Smith has signed a long-term deal with Toyota, meaning 2023 is likely to be his last season in New Zealand, NZR said.

However, Barrett could return home to play after 2024.

"I'm looking forward to taking up this opportunity with Toyota alongside a good friend and long-term team mate in Aaron," Barrett, 31, said in a statement.

"My agent Warren Alcock is in communication and negotiation with New Zealand Rugby, the Blues and Toyota about my future beyond the Japan One 2024 season."

Smith and Barrett will play for the Otago Highlanders and Auckland Blues, respectively, in Super Rugby Pacific this season and will be available for the All Blacks through to the end of the World Cup.

The pair are the two most-capped backs in All Blacks' history, with 34-year-old Smith playing 114 tests and Barrett 112.

Smith is the Highlanders' most capped player, with 176 matches for the Dunedin-based side since his 2011 debut.

"You look at Aaron and you think, this guy could go on forever," said Highlanders CEO Roger Clark.

"I know we and every Highlanders fan would want him to. Unfortunately, that is not a reality in professional rugby.

"I would encourage everyone to come out this season and watch the master at work one last time."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Bradley Perrett)

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