Rugby: All Blacks Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett join growing post-World Cup exodus

The latest dominoes in the post-Rugby World Cup All Blacks exodus are about to fall, with veterans Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett all signing deals for Top League sides in Japan.

Newshub understands an announcement from NZ Rugby regarding Retallick's departure is imminent, with 2023 to be the 100-test All Black's final year in New Zealand.

Smith has already confirmed his departure, inking a long-term deal with the Toyota club, where he will join Barrett, who is working with NZ Rugby on a potential return to New Zealand beyond 2024.

Smith has thanked the Highlanders fans for all their support, since he made his debut in 2008.

"From the time I signed my first contract in 2008 until now, I have been living my dream," Smith said. "I have been blessed to represent my home with the Manawatū Turbos, who helped me chase my dream of being a Super Rugby player.

"I have to say a big thanks to the Highlanders for believing in me. I have done it all with that team and they have always been there for me. 

"Thank you to every Highlanders player, staff member and fan. You have given me everything and more in the 13 years we have had together."

Beauden Barrett.
Beauden Barrett.

For Retallick, it will be his second stint at the Kobe Steelers, after playing for them in 2020/21, during a sabbatical from NZ Rugby. It will bring down the curtain on one of the most formidable locking partnerships in All Black history between Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

The pair have combined for a whopping 64 tests, more than any other in world rugby history, surpassing the previous record set by Springboks duo Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

While no doubt a blow to the All Blacks and Chiefs, Retallick's departure should come as little surprise. He'd previously indicated another World Cup tilt would be a struggle and after more than a decade in the national team, he's fully earned the right to end his career offshore.

Retallick made his debut for Hawke's Bay in 2010, before being awarded a full-time Chiefs contract in 2012, making his All Blacks debut in the same year against Ireland. 

Outside his 2020 sabbatical, when he was ineligible, Retallick has never relinquished his spot in the All Blacks.

A three-year deal in Japan is in line with a growing trend among Top League sides signing high-profile international players. 

Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith at All Blacks training
Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith at All Blacks training. Photo credit: Photosport

Sides are keen for players to commit to longer deals in a bid to aid the development of the club, as opposed to the one-year 'moneymakers' customary in the past.

Retallick will have plenty of Kiwi company at Kobe, with fellow All Black Ardie Savea also joining in 2024, while former All Black Ngani Laumape and former Highlander Richard Buckman are also on their roster.

Retallick, Smith and Barrett will likely be among several high-profile departures from the All Blacks this year, with Richie Mo'unga already signing a three-year deal with Toshiba, while fellow veterans Whitelock and Dane Coles could both call time on their NZ playing days.

Retallick's departure means the All Blacks will have a huge lack of experience in the second row from 2024. Patrick Tuipulotu will be their most senior lock, with 43 tests under his belt, but the All Blacks have had an eye to the future around their selections for the past few years.

They brought in Tupou Vaa'i in 2020 and Josh Lord in 2021 to ensure some experience remained in the second row, when the curtain eventually came down on Retallick and Whitelock's All Black careers - a reality they're about to face from next year.