The Dominion Post

Smith set for France move as Ranger poised to return

- MARC HINTON

YOU win some and you lose some.

Veteran centre Conrad Smith is poised to be the latest All Black to depart post-World Cup, though former internatio­nal Rene Ranger is understood to be keen to return to New Zealand.

French bi-weekly rugby newspaper Midi Olympique has reported that runaway Pro2 (second division) leaders Pau were closing in on the prized signature of Smith as they look to bolster their squad for their tilt at next season’s Top 14.

The news will come as no surprise to New Zealand Rugby officials who are anticipati­ng losing the vast majority of their experience­d core of All Blacks following this year’s World Cup in England.

Already the departures of Dan Carter (Racing Metro), Ma’a Nonu (Toulon), Ben Franks (London Irish) and Jeremy Thrush (Gloucester) have been confirmed, fringe internatio­nal Ben Tameifuna is understood to be pondering a similar move, while the likes of 2013 All Black tourist Frank Halai, veteran flanker Luke Braid and Chiefs utility Tom Marshall have also confirmed departures.

Others such as Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock and possibly even skipper Richie McCaw are expected to retire after the global event

The French rugby newspaper reported that Pau were in ‘‘very advanced’’ talks with Smith. It’s understood the 33-year-old, 85-test veteran is seeking a two-year deal and discussion­s around the term were all that remained to be resolved.

Midi also reported that Ranger, the former Blues and All Black utility back, was ‘‘not going to honour’’ the final year of his Montpellie­r contract and would return to New Zealand.

It is thought Ranger

is home- sick and has been looking to leave the club for a while now.

It’s not clear yet where he would return to play his rugby but his links are in the Northland province and with the Blues franchise.

Ranger played six tests for the All Blacks in 2010 and 2013 before leaving to take up a deal with Montpellie­r.

New Zealand rugby boss Steve Tew said this week that his organisati­on remained committed to retaining as many players as possible but the cash-rich markets in France, the UK and Japan were always going to be tough competitor­s.

‘‘It’s not just the TV money – French owners have been pumping enormous amounts of money in that makes no economic sense,’’ he said.

‘‘We noticed a couple of English clubs have been busy the last couple of months, and haven’t gone away, and Japan are still niggling away. Ireland are still there as well.’’

But NZ Rugby are by no means losing all the battles. They managed to retain prop Charlie Faumuina in the face of a bigmoney offer from Racing Metro and it’s understood Jerome Kaino, who was heavily chased by Toulouse, will also be retained via a new deal that could include a sabbatical.

Hosea Gear has also returned from stints in France and Japan to play for the Chiefs as he attempts to win a spot back in the All Blacks.

Tew said they would continue to talk to leading players who are off contract this year.

‘‘We’re working our way through a group of players,’’ he added. ‘‘There are some very experience­d guys who have been with us for a long time who we are indebted to and very grateful to for what they’ve done for us, and they need to be given the opportunit­y to make those decision and, whatever decisions they are, have those executed in the right way.

‘‘We’re having those conversati­ons as we speak. We’ll give them the space and time they require because they’ve been great servants.’’

 ?? Photo: GETTY IMAGES ?? Centre of attention: All Blacks centre Conrad Smith is reportedly close to signing with a French club.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES Centre of attention: All Blacks centre Conrad Smith is reportedly close to signing with a French club.

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