All Blacks captain Kieran Read will depart New Zealand Rugby at the end of 2019 to take up a contract in Japan.
The veteran number eight, who has been a one-club player at the Crusaders since 2007, will play for Toyota Verblitz from 2020 which ends a 13-year career in New Zealand.
To date, Read has 118 caps for the All Blacks since making his debut in 2008, with 43 of those served as captain, while he has also played 145 domestic games for the Crusaders.
The 33-year-old said he was thankful for the opportunities he has had, and was looking forward to those in the future overseas.
“Every young rugby player in New Zealand dreams of the opportunities I have had to represent the All Blacks and the Crusaders, and I know I’ll look back at the end of the year with a great deal of pride to have worn those jerseys for as long as I have,” Read said.
“My family and I are looking forward to an overseas experience and Japan presents an awesome opportunity to immerse ourselves in Japanese culture as part of the Toyota club.
“I feel the time is right to make this announcement on my playing future, so that I can focus my efforts on the season ahead.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said he would be a huge loss to the All Blacks, and also commended the work the skipper has done off the field.
“On behalf of New Zealand Rugby and the All Blacks, I’d like to acknowledge the fantastic contribution that Reado has made to our game. His performances on the park speak for themselves: he’s played 118 Tests and started 111 of them, which is an outstanding achievement.
“However, that is only part of the Kieran Read story. His contribution off the park has been just as impressive. He’s developed into a fantastic leader, who has the utmost respect of all his peers.
What he has achieved has been remarkable, and it’s fair to say that he is one of the greats of our game who has enhanced the legacy of not only the All Blacks jersey but also the Crusaders jersey. We wish him, Bridget and the kids all the very best in their next rugby chapter.”
He will be sorely missed by the All Blacks, after being named World Rugby player of the year in 2013 and being a part of the side who won the 2015 Rugby World Cup. At domestic level, he has won three Super Rugby championships with the Crusaders, including back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.
Read will be joined in leaving New Zealand rugby by Ben Smith and Liam Squire, while a host of other stars could also make their departure after the tournament, which will be held in Japan throughout September and October this year.