All Blacks lock Whitelock commits to New Zealand rugby to 2023

All Blacks lock Whitelock commits to New Zealand rugby to 2023
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - New Zealand Training - The Lensbury, Teddington, Britain - November 8, 2018 New Zealand's Sam Whitelock during training Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra -
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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock has extended his national contract through to 2023 in a coup for New Zealand as the rugby power looks to rebuild after the World Cup in Japan.

Whitelock's "flexible" deal will see him skip the 2020 Super Rugby season with the Canterbury Crusaders to take on a short-term contract in Japan's Top 14 competition after the global showpiece.

"This is a major re-signing for us and we're absolutely delighted that Sam has chosen to sign a four-year deal," New Zealand Rugby (NZR) CEO Steve Tew said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We know our players have a number of choices to make when it comes to where they play their rugby and we have to be flexible when it comes to renegotiating with our leading players, and that's what we have done with Sam.

"He'll have a short break away with his young family and experience a different culture, before returning to New Zealand.

"We think having a short playing stint in Japan as part of a long-term, four-year commitment is a win-win for him and us."

The 30-year-old Whitelock has long been tipped to succeed his Crusaders team mate and loose forward Kieran Read as All Blacks skipper, with Read having confirmed he will quit international rugby after the World Cup.

A twice World Cup winner, the 108-test Whitelock is the most capped All Blacks lock of all-time and first captained the side in 2017.

The Crusaders skipper has All Blacks blood in his veins, with his brothers George and Luke, and grandfather Nelson Dalzell, all capped.

"Ultimately, this decision allows me to take some time with my family to experience a new rugby environment in Japan, before coming back refreshed and ready for the remainder of 2020 and beyond," said Whitelock.

In the short-term, Whitelock will concentrate on leading the Crusaders to a hat-trick of Super Rugby titles before heading to Japan in search of a third successive World Cup for New Zealand.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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