Sonny Bill Williams confirms his move to Japan
The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and Chiefs franchise have acknowledged All Blacks and Chiefs midfielder Sonny Bill Williams who has confirmed he is leaving New Zealand rugby.
26-year-old Williams has announced a deal with the Japanese rugby club Panasonic Wild Knights and will leave for Japan following the Investec Super Rugby competition, in time for the start of the Japanese Top League competition in September.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said while Sonny has been with New Zealand rugby for only a short time, his contribution has been immense.
"He came to New Zealand rugby two years ago as a 'convert' player and was similar to Brad Thorn in that regard - players with high-level skills and freakish abilities without a fully developed game understanding for the new code.
"This season we have seen the birth of Sonny as a rugby player, with his game understanding now complementing his array of skills. His performances in the Steinlager Series Tests against Ireland reflected this - he was world class.
"It is a shame and disappointing that New Zealand rugby is losing him. In talking to him, I know the decision has been a tough one but we fully respect why he has made this decision. He is an outstanding athlete who has stamped his mark on the game and hopefully this is not the last time we see him in New Zealand rugby.
"I would also like to acknowledge Sonny's manager Koder Nasser. Koder has been nothing but straight up in his dealings with myself and the NZRU and kept us informed right from day one. We may not always agree, but we have appreciated his honesty and transparency."
Chiefs Coach Dave Rennie said: "Sonny has been an important part of the Chiefs family this year. His professionalism, attitude and commitment have been a real asset to our environment.
"We appreciate everything he has done for our franchise. His Chiefs family completely understand and respect his decision and will watch and support his future endeavours closely. He will always be welcome back."
NZRU CEO Steve Tew said Williams had exercised a right under his contract to leave New Zealand rugby following the Investec Super Rugby competition and also noted that Williams had advised that he would not be seeking to return to New Zealand rugby in 2013, but has not ruled out a return to New Zealand rugby in the future.
"We want to wish Sonny all the very best and thank him for the contribution he has made to New Zealand rugby."
Sonny Bill Williams has played 17 Tests for the All Blacks and more than 20 Super Rugby matches for the Chiefs and Crusaders and joined New Zealand rugby in 2010, first playing for Canterbury in the ITM Cup. With his size, strength and trademark offloads he made an immediate impact, became a fan favourite, and was picked for the All Blacks on the 2010 end of year tour, playing in four Tests. He played for the Crusaders in the 2011 Investec Super Rugby season and his impressive form saw him selected again for the All Blacks Investec Tri Nations side and Rugby World Cup-winning squad. He made the switch to the Chiefs in 2012 and his outstanding play saw him again selected for the All Blacks Steinlager Series against Ireland and he scored two tries in the team's 60-0 third Test win.