All Blacks star five-eighth Beauden Barrett has committed to New Zealand rugby for four more years but has announced a seismic domestic shift from the Hurricanes to the Blues.
Barrett joined fellow-Test stars Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock in ignoring the lure of rich European clubs signing until after the 2023 World Cup in France.
The 28-year-old two-time world player of the year has a clause that will allow him to take “short playing break” in Japan at some point over the next four years.
He will also begin his first season with the Blues next year late, joining the team midway through the 2020 campaign, allowing him to take a break from rugby.
Barrett was relieved to confirm a deal which had hung over him during the second half of the Super Rugby season.
He said leaving the Hurricanes after nine years and 125 games of service – including the 2016 title – was difficult but he and wife Hannah were committed to living in the Blues base city of Auckland.
“The Hurricanes will always be a huge part of who I am. The Hurricanes environment and style of rugby they play has helped me become the player I am today, and I’ll be leaving some very good mates,” he said.
“I’m also enthusiastic about the new challenge I’ll get with the Blues over the next four years. They’re a team on the rise, I like the way they play and I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.”
Barrett’s shift is expected to revive the fortunes of the Blues, who have been the worst-performed Kiwi team for several seasons despite boasting easily the greatest playing resources.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald expected Barrett to make an immediate impact.
“It’s huge for our club. As well as getting a world-class player, our young first-fives will flourish with the opportunity to train and play alongside Beauden, and I am sure he will be an immediate fan favourite at Eden Park,” he said.
NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew believed Barrett’s decision to stay in New Zealand was important as the national team will undergo significant changes to its coaching and playing personnel from next year.
“There is no doubting how important he is to the All Blacks and every team he plays for,” Tew said.
“He is now a genuine leader in any team he plays and a strong contributor to our off-field responsibilities.
“He joins a strong core of experienced Test players who are now with us leading into the 2023 Rugby World Cup.”