All Blacks: Ben Smith confirms departure after 2019 Rugby World Cup

All Blacks fullback Ben Smith has confirmed he will leave New Zealand rugby at the end of the 2019 season.

The 76-test veteran was widely expected to move on after next year's Rugby World Cup, with reports linking him to the French club Pau in the Top 14 competition.

On Thursday morning, Smith, 32, duly confirmed his departure from New Zealand and the new contract with Pau.

"I'm excited about the opportunities that may present themselves in the future, but I also realise my playing time with Otago, the Highlanders and the All Blacks now has an end point," he said.

Smith has often been regarded as the world's best number 15, but has proved to be 'Mr Fixit' in the All Blacks back-line, also fronting on the wing and centre during an international career that began in 2009.

During 2018, he has moved onto the wing to make room for Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett at the back.

Smith was part of the 2015 World Cup-winning All Blacks side and also won a sevens gold medal at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. He is the most capped Highlanders player with 144 appearances, helping them to Super Rugby success in 2015. 

But he has also been troubled by concussion in recent years and was forced to take time out of rugby last year to regroup.

"In your heart, you want to play forever, but in your head, you know that's not possible," said Smith. "In the playing time I have remaining, I'm pretty keen to experience fresh, new challenge.

"I think it will be good to be involved in a new encironment and a foreign culture for a while. I'm sure it will be a bit of an adventure for both myself and my family."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who is expected to announce his own future this week, was full of praise for Smith, who captained the national team against Samoa last year.

"He's a special person and an outstanding rugby player, who has always given - and will continue to give - 100 percent to the All Blacks jersey," said Hansen.