All Blacks agree groundbreaking deal with Aviva Premiership club Harlequins

Harlequins could become the go-to destination for All Blacks talent such as Aaron Smith, left, or Damian McKenzie, right. Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The Stoop could become the go-to destination for All Blacks seeking a year abroad after Harlequins signed a "cooperation agreement" with New Zealand Rugby (NZR).

As part of the groundbreaking exchange programme the Aviva Premiership club will send young players and coaches to gain experience in New Zealand, while Harlequins could benefit from rising Kiwi stars -- both male and female -- coming the other way.

Harlequins informed the Rugby Football Union of the deal prior to signing it, and it is understood England's governing body has no objections to it despite the potential benefit it could provide an international rival.

"This is new territory for New Zealand Rugby and this unique relationship will open some useful connections in that part of the world," NZR chief executive Steve Tew said. "With its strong ex-pat community, London is of key strategic importance to New Zealand Rugby, and when you factor in our shared relationship with adidas, this cooperation agreement is a very natural fit.

"This alignment will create significant opportunities for both sides, with players, coaches and staff able to learn from different environments with different people, challenges and cultures."

A number of All Blacks have headed north since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with the likes of Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa and Steven Luatua plying their trade in Europe. Lima Sopoaga, Brad Shields, Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam, George Moala and Charlie Ngatai, meanwhile, have all agreed deals to play in England or France next season.

This agreement could give New Zealand greater control over those players who decide seek an opportunity overseas in the future.

"I'm delighted to be able to announce Harlequins' strategic partnership with New Zealand Rugby," Quins chief executive David Ellis said.

"The All Blacks are the benchmark of excellence for all teams, so to be able to align with them both on and off the pitch will be of significant benefit to the club."