No one can begrudge Ben Smith signing off his service to New Zealand after the World Cup.

Come next year he will be 33, and nearing the twilight years when the time to cash in grows more apparent, more understandable, having dedicated so much of his life to Otago, the Highlanders and All Blacks.

Confirmation of Smith's move to Pau, on what is thought to be a seven-month deal with another Japanese contract possibly to come, is expected to see the French club miss out on Ardie Savea who has been offered an improved deal by NZ Rugby.


Had the All Blacks and Hurricanes flanker, just 25, opted to leave it would have been a significant blow.

"Ardie is a little bit different. He's younger," NZ Rugby head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum told the Herald previously. "As we understand it that club has significant interest in him and we're just working through that with him at the moment. Clearly we want him to stay."

Contrastingly, Smith's imminent move will be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders by many. He is approaching his second World Cup and turned down offshore riches at his last career juncture two years ago.

Having more than done his time, Smith deserves the chance to set up his family.

While Smith's importance to the Highlanders, as co-captain, and the All Blacks' youthful back three next year cannot be understated, his announcement should also provide pause to reflect on just how classy he has been.

Shifting seamlessly between fullback and wing for the All Blacks he has already defied age which claimed many a victim in the outside back division.

He refused to succumb to career-threatening concussions, returning from a summer sabbatical in sparking form.

Two Bledisloe Cup performances earlier this year in particular were some of his best in the black jersey.

Aware of his future plans, Smith told the Herald on the recent northern tour he was learning to savour every last moment in the All Blacks and New Zealand rugby.

"You talk to a lot of the guys that are a bit older and they realise that this doesn't last forever," Smith said on the eve of his third and last test in Ireland. "You've got to make the most of it and enjoy the ride a bit too because once it's all done, you'll look back and probably wish you could go back in a time machine."

"The older you get the more you appreciate these moments and make sure you enjoy it so when you finish you don't regret anything.

"I even probably took a minute against England at Twickenham to stop and think 'how cool is this'. Whereas early on I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I could have. It does fly by. It feels like the other day I was playing my first test.

"I suppose you're always looking at next week. As soon as the game finishes you're straight into that preparation and process of making sure you can nail what you need to nail.

"Now you just appreciate being in the changing room, sitting down and talking to your mates over a beer or water. It's about appreciating that time and what you've achieved. It's important to take that time to reflect. You've always got Sunday to think about the following week."

News of Smith's departure next year comes with All Blacks captain Kieran Read in the sights of Paris-based Racing 92 and with Toulon expected to announce they have signed Nehe Milner-Skudder on a three-year deal from September next year.

A host of other All Blacks are also set to depart post World Cup.

"We'll be expecting some departures naturally at the end of the World Cup cycle that's what happens," Lendrum said. "The number of players you're likely to see beyond that leave out of the All Blacks group doesn't appear to be a significant number at this point in time."