Piri Weepu to leave Blues for London Welsh

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 17:41 10/07/2014
Piri Weepu
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THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Piri Weepu will be remembered as one of the most colourful All Blacks of modern times.

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Former All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu is set to depart New Zealand rugby within months.

Fairfax Media understands Weepu has signed a two-year deal worth between $300,000 and $400,000 per-year with recently promoted English club London Welsh.

Weepu turns 31 in September and after recent health issues, which included a minor stroke caused by a small hole in his heart, the lucrative offer comes at the right time in his career.

The Blues were keen to retain Weepu's services next season and the 71-test veteran had weighed up extending his contract with the Auckland-based franchise, but this late option was too good to turn down.

Stuck behind Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr Barlow and Augustine Pulu in the national pecking order, an All Blacks recall seemed unlikely and at this point he has nothing left to prove. As the pace of the game has steadily increased, Weepu battled fitness and form in recent times - falling behind Bryn Hall at the Blues - but his cheeky, forthright persona and unique on-field feats will be fondly remembered.

Few players possess the same honesty and humility during interviews and in casual conversations. 

Wainuiomata's favourite son dropped a bombshell when he left the Hurricanes after 84 games in 2011, following the ejection of close friend Ma'a Nonu. He's since made 39 appearances for the Blues and coach Sir John Kirwan indicated his presence would be difficult to replace.

"He's been a great Blues man the last four years. He's a fantastic team man," Kirwan said. "He really cares about the players around him. He will be a big loss for us. We were keen for him to stay but we understand fully. He's had a couple of options on the go.

"He's been a great servant of the game. It's great for him to go overseas and get a new experience. He's helped us win a World Cup. He's been a great All Black. It's a good natural progression that he rolls on.

"He'll be remembered fondly. We'll all miss him. He's a special man."

Weepu's influence was no more keenly felt than during the 2011 Rugby World Cup triumph. As injury claimed three of the All Blacks' first five-eighths, the No 9 carried the weight of a nation. His performance in the quarterfinal against Argentina in particular displayed composure of the highest order. The "Keep calm Piri's on" t-shirts symbolised his cult status.

Earlier in his career Weepu's subtle passing game and vision set him apart. His final test came against France in New Plymouth in 2013, though he was recalled to last year's Rugby Championship squad as injury cover.

Weepu is expected to be available for London Welsh's first game of the season on September 7th. The Oxford-based club have gone on an aggressive recruitment drive since being promoted, signing 20 new players including Pumas prop Pablo Henn. 

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