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Ali Williams is quitting test rugby, ending an 11-year stint in the All Blacks.
Williams announced his retirement via social media this morning, tweeting: "It's that time."
He then provided a link to Telly, a site labelled the web's TV, where he posted a short video, confirming he was standing down from the international game.
"Guys, I just want to let you know first that I'm retiring from international rugby," he said.
"I'm hanging up the black jersey. It's been an amazing 10 years but it's time to call it quits.
"But I'm not hanging up the boots yet."
Williams played his first test in 2002 against England and went on to earn 77 caps and played in three World Cups including winning the tournament in 2011.
The big lock has been plagued by injuries, with two Achilles operations biting into his test career.
The 32-year-old has been in rejuvenated form this year for the Blues where the captaincy has brought out the best in him.
He was named in the All Blacks wider training squad that was in a three-day camp in Mt Maunganui earlier this week.
But Williams has clearly seen the writing on the wall – that his experience alone will not be enough to hold off the young brigade as the next crucial steps in planning the defence of the World Cup in 2015 are put in place.
The All Blacks now have three outstanding young locks in Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick who have quickly garnered enough test experience to bring confidence in the second row stocks moving forward.
Crusaders lock Dominic Bird is seen as the next cab off the rank.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has said this was likely to be a transitional year where tough decisions would be required around some ageing stars.
Williams is the first of those to put his hand up.
Williams was a consistent performer for the All Blacks where he brought athleticism to go with the usual roles of the tight-five department.
His best season for the All Blacks was in 2008 when he shrugged off the World Cup disaster of the previous year to play 15 tests and be the iron man of the pack.
But injuries hit him after that and he didn't reappear in the black jersey again until 2011, when he forced his way back in for the winning World Cup effort.
Knee problems surfaced last year that saw him play the opening two tests against Ireland but then sit out the Rugby Championship.
He retained the faith of the selectors by gaining a place on the end-of-year tour but was clearly in a secondary role.
Williams must now decide whether he will stay on at his beloved Blues or take his game offshore where his good form and improved fitness over this year will still give him some appeal to the rich foreign clubs.
The accolades came thick and fast for Williams as his decision was made public.
Hansen congratulated Williams on his career in the All Blacks and said he respected Williams’ decision to go out on his own terms.
“By retiring he is doing what’s best for the All Blacks and showing a tremendous amount of integrity by putting the team ahead of himself. He knew he may have been selected for the All Blacks again this year, but he also knows that it is better for the team to have a younger player in the position,” Hansen said.
“Ali has been a fantastic All Black. He is a player who has always worn his heart on his sleeve, he is a real character who loved being an All Black and wearing the jersey proudly and representing his country, and that’s what we love about him.
“He would have played a lot more games for the team if injuries hadn’t robbed him of the opportunity. But it took a lot of courage to come back to top–flight rugby and that is a measure of the man and shows just how much he loves the game.”
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said: “I’m incredibly proud of Ali; it must have been a very difficult decision for him to make. A lot of players at his stage in their career are looking to go overseas, but he really wants to commit to the Blues and stay here and help this young side grow and achieve their goals, which is fantastic.
"He’s been a great All Black and I’m looking forward to him being fully committed and focussed on the Blues and enjoying himself.”
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew added: “Ali has been one of the great servants of New Zealand rugby and, on behalf of New Zealand Rugby, we congratulate him on his All Blacks career. He still has a lot to offer the game here, is obviously making an outstanding contribution to the Blues and wants to continue doing that which is great for New Zealand rugby.”
- © Fairfax NZ News
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