Piri Weepu says goodbye, 'chur' New Zealand
TOBY ROBSON AND LIAM NAPIER
Former All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu says his goodbyes to New Zealand, with special mention for his fans, as he heads to England to play for club side London Welsh.
In a video message to his fans today, Weepu singled out the New Zealand, Wellington and Auckland rugby unions, and the Super Rugby franchises he played for, the Blues and Hurricanes. But his most sincere message was for the fans.
''It's been a pleasure over the years,'' Weepu said.
''I just really want to say thank you to all the fans out there. It's been awesome. You guys have been so supportive of myself ... I just wanted to thank New Zealand.''
He was a little nervous heading to England on a contract believed to be a two-year deal worth between $300,000 and $400,000 per-year, but was upbeat about what lay ahead.
''Im looking forward to it, and no doubt you'll see my cheeky smile along the social media ways.''
Weepu was expected to be available for London Welsh's first game of the season on September 7.
Weepu turned 31 in September and after recent health issues, which included a minor stroke caused by a small hole in his heart, the lucrative offer came 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 the Europe 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 had nothing left to prove.
As the pace of the game had steadily increased, Weepu battled fitness and form - falling behind Bryn Hall at the Blues - but his cheeky, forthright persona and unique on-field feats would be fondly remembered.
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.
He was also a long-time inspirational leader of the All Blacks haka.
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 had wanted to leave New Zealand quietly and in recent weeks had routinely declined media interviews, preferring to make statements via Twitter with the tag line: "Just wanna say thank you to everyone.. Even if your not a fan, still love ya! Chee #OmataWillAlwaysBeHome."
He had been, however, happy to talk about his local club side Wainui, who he ran water for over the past fortnight during the team's run to the Jubilee Cup final.
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