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Former All Blacks captain Reuben Thorne will quit New Zealand for Japan at the end of his 13th Super rugby campaign next year with the Crusaders.

By then, Thorne, who has played 121 Super rugby matches since 1997, will have come close or equalled Australian George Gregan's record of 136 set with the Brumbies over a 12-year-period.

To draw level, Thorne, who turns 33 in January, would need to figure in every game including the final in order to add the 15 appearances he needs.

Thorne said yesterday the time was right to join the Yamaha club of Japan.

Making the decision now had given him and wife Kate certainty, while also allowing the teams he is associated with advanced warning of his exit.

"There's probably never an ideal time to say goodbye, but this decision is the best thing for Kate, the children and I at this stage of our lives.

"If we didn't take this opportunity, while the children are still young, the chance to travel and experience something different would probably have passed us by."

In the meantime, Thorne was focused on helping the Crusaders to another successful season.

He has amassed a combined total of over 193 representative appearances spread across the Crusaders and Canterbury since he debuted for Canterbury against South Canterbury in 1996 and for the Crusaders a year later.

He also became, during the recent rugby World Cup, the 30th All Black, and the 17th forward, to appear in 50 tests for New Zealand.

Thorne led the All Blacks in 2002 and 2003, and then for one test in 2007, with the side winning 20 of the 23 games under his charge.

These included Tri-Nations titles in 2002 and 2003, and the return of the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand after a six-year absence in 2003.

He has appeared in all eight of the team's Super rugby finals, finishing on the winning side six times.

He is the only Crusader to have featured on the playing roster of every title-winning side from the franchise.

Canterbury and Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said Thorne's departure would be a bitter-sweet moment for all associated with the game in the region.

"No one can begrudge Reuben, Kate, Angus and Lucy the opportunity to try something different and gain some life experience off shore..." Riach said.

His selfless attitude, his tremendous work ethic and the leadership he provided to all of those around him would be missed.

New Zealand Rugby Union deputy chief executive Steve Tew said Thorne represented all that is good about New Zealand rugby.

"He has the total respect and admiration of everyone who has played or worked with him because of his integrity.

"He works hard, leads by example and does it all with humility. He has displayed those qualities consistently for more than a decade.

"We could not have asked more from Reuben and we sincerely wish him and Kate well, and look forward to his return."

All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen said Thorne had been a great contributor to New Zealand rugby, "sometimes under trying circumstance", and had always shown integrity and class with his deeds on the field.

"He's been picked by four different All Blacks coaches which is a great credit to him and his perseverance."

- NZPA