WELLINGTON, New Zealand, April 19 – All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu will remain in New Zealand following this year's World Cup after signing a contract that commits him to the national team until 2013, officials said Tuesday.
The 83-Test veteran’s signature is a major boost to the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU), which hopes to avoid an exodus of players to cashed-up European clubs following the showcase tournament.
The NZRU said the deal meant Mealamu, 32, the fourth-most capped player in New Zealand history, would remain with the All Blacks and the Auckland Blues Super 15 club until 2013.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said he was delighted with Mealamu’s decision.
"Kevie is a very important part of the All Blacks team, is part of our leadership group and is a very special man," he said.
Mealamu said he wanted to show his gratitude for the unconditional backing he had received from the All Blacks and the Blues throughout his career.
"I have always hoped I could repay the support I have been given, by showing my continued loyalty to New Zealand," he said.
The NZRU have already signed a number of All Blacks beyond the World Cup, including back Conrad Smith, prop Tony Woodcock and loose forward Kieran Read.
However, some of the team’s highest profile players — including skipper Richie McCaw, star fly-half Dan Carter and rugby league convert Sonny Bill Williams — are yet to commit to staying on after the tournament, which will be held in New Zealand from September 9 to October 23.