Veteran All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock has confirmed he will move to France, after the Rugby World Cup in the same country later this year.
Whitelock, 34, had previously signalled he would take up an offshore contract and has signed for two years at Pau, where brother Luke has played since 2019.
The 143-test second-rower debuted for the national team in 2010 and has shared in two World Cup triumphs, serving as captain on several occasions through his career and forming a recordbreaking locking partnership with Brodie Retallick.
He has also logged 176 games for the Crusaders, helping them to six Super rugby titles.
"It's a bit of a weird feeling," he said. "Obviously, we've known a bit longer than everyone else.
"It's different being here at Rugby Park [Orangetheory Stadium] for a few years now and I've loved all the emotions - the highs, the lows - the challenges. It doesn't matter what team I've been part of, it's been awesome.
"At the same time, there's so much rugby to be played this year, it's a weird one for me at the moment."
Whitelock told his teammates several weeks ago and his public announcement lifts a weight off his shoulders, as the Crusaders enter the business end of the Super Rugby campaign, chasing their seventh straight crown.
He admits the prospect of playing with his brother again had appealed for a while.
"I had the privilege of playing for Canterbury, Crusaders and All Blacks at different stages with a brother or brothers," he said. "It was amazing being here at the Crusaders, when all four of us were here.
"There was always the drive to be better, but with the family dynamic, so if you got grumpy, a family nickname might come out and the other players would be, like, 'What's going on?'
"It's amazing, throughout my career, you get to know all these different people. They're not my biological brother, but you get to have that connection with people from completely different upbringings and backgrounds to myself."
While the French contract will take Whitelock into his late 30s, he doesn't discount a return to the Crusaders at its completion.
"Never say never," he insisted. "Someone like a Johnny Afoa never thought he would be back... I've got a few more grey hairs than Johnny, but I could be back at some stage."
Former All Blacks prop Afoa, 39, became Super Rugby's oldest-ever player, when he turned out for the Crusaders last weekend, answering an SOS, amid a front-row injury crisis.
"I'm still enjoying footy, still feel like I'm playing good rugby," said Whitelock. "I've just got to keep fresh, available and fit.
"The biggest thing is, if you're enjoying it, carry on, but if you're not, I think it shows in your performance on the training field and on the playing field.
'If I'm playing rugby, I want to play good rugby. I don't want to be one of those grumpy guys hanging on."
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