Ben Smith has confirmed he will not be playing for the Highlanders in the upcoming Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.
As indicated by the Herald earlier this week, Smith's return to the competition was always unlikely due to insurance costs, but the former All Black confirmed he would not be making a surprise return to his former club.
"Super Rugby Aotearoa like a great concept," he said on Instagram.
"I'm looking forward to supporting the Highlanders and watching them give it a crack. I'm not sure where the speculation has come from but I won't be playing in this year's competition.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
"I'm looking forward to getting alongside my club side in Green Island and getting back to grassroots where it all started."
Romanticism struck at the heart of Smith returning from France to add to his 153 games with the Highlanders, but Smith is understood to be under contract to join Brodie Retallick and Aaron Cruden at Wayne Smith's dominant Japanese Kobe Steel side, as direct import replacements for Dan Carter and Andy Ellis.
The insurance costs associated with covering the salaries of existing contracts such as Smith's is significant, and New Zealand's Super Rugby sides currently don't have the money to cover them.
From a risk perspective, there is also limited upside Smith to re-join his beloved Highlanders, as doing so would jeopardise future earnings, with the 33-year-old Smith likely contemplating the final stint of his career in Japan.
The Highlanders have already signed one former All Black however, with Nehe Milner-Skudder joining the squad, while All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock is returning to the Crusaders.
Retallick, Waisake Naholo and Ryan Crotty are among others are back in the country, too, but are not expected to suit up for the competition.