Smith and Barrett join the Kiwi exodus to Japan after the World Cup.
All Blacks Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett have announced they will play in Japan from 2024.
The Kiwi Test centurions have signed with Toyota Verblitz who play in the Japan Rugby League One and currently feature internationals like England’s Joe Launchbury.
Both players will be available for Rugby World Cup selection later this year and will continue to play for their respective clubs in Super Rugby Pacific this season.
Scrum-half Smith has committed to a long-term contract with the Japanese club which will make 2023 his last season in New Zealand with the Highlanders.
Blues fly-half Barrett is in “negotiation” with New Zealand Rugby about his potential return to New Zealand beyond 2024.
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Barrett said: “I’m looking forward to taking up this opportunity with Toyota alongside a good friend and long-term team-mate in Aaron.
“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.”
Smith said: “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
“I have to say a big thanks to the Highlanders for believing in me.”
The duo are the most-capped backs in All Blacks history with Smith holding 114 and Barrett coming in second with 112 – equal to former fly-half Dan Carter.
Other All Blacks have previously played in Japan. Damian McKenzie spent last season with Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, the side Barrett represented ten times in 2021 in his previous stint in Japan.
Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo’unga recently signed a three-year deal with Toshiba Brave Lupus. Brodie Retallick will rejoin Kobelco Steelers while Ardie Savea will also be making the Japan move to the same side.
Manawatū Rugby CEO Andrea Jackson said: “Aaron is the perfect example of the pathways provided by provincial rugby.
“It has been a privilege for Manawatū Rugby to watch Aaron progress from a promising schoolboy at Feilding High School, to a provincial standout with the Turbos, to the All Blacks, and through to being one of the greatest in his position of all time.”
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