All Blacks: 'I probably would have gone' - Sam Whitelock saved by new NZ Rugby deal

All Blacks captain-in-waiting Sam Whitelock has signed a deal many will see as the best of both worlds.

He still gets to play for the All Blacks next year, despite missing the Super Rugby season to head offshore for a lucrative stint in Japan.

A rugged customer on the field, Whitelock has proven he's a tough nut to crack as a negotiator as well.

Two months ago, he thought he was heading overseas for good, before agreeing to an unprecedented deal with New Zealand Rugby.

"I was pretty open with the NZR," he said. "If that it didn't happen, I probably would have gone."

Now he has a contract that makes him still eligible for the All Blacks next year, despite bypassing the 2020 Super Rugby competition with the Crusaders.

Instead, he'll take up a lucrative contract in Japan with Robbie Deans' Panasonic Wild Knights.

"They put it out there and asked what would it take to stay, and I said flexibility."

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said his lock had earned it.

"There is a bit more flexibility and he deserves it," said Robertson. "He's played a lot of games, he's performed and he's a great leader."

NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said such a case warranted an easing of the rules.

"We are really comfortable with the precedent," said Lendrum. "If the threshold for that degree of flexibility is around the Sam Whitelock threshold, I think everyone would understand that."

The deal is for four years, although there are exit clauses.

"If it's too hard for family, or my body's not holding up or not enjoying it any more, we can end it there," Whitelock added.

The 30-year-old had plenty of leverage, with New Zealand rugby loathe to lose another world-class forward, considering captain Kieran Read and Owen Franks are both heading overeas after the World Cup.

"I'd like to have a leadership role, but what that looks like, I don't know."

Newshub.

Join us at 7:30pm Friday for live updates of the Crusaders v Sharks Super Rugby clash

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz