Ellison defection hits ABs' midfield resources

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 11/05/2013
Tamati Ellison
Fairfax NZ
HEADING OFF: Tamati Ellison has no regrets about his decision to head to Japan.

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Reports of Tamati Ellison's defection to Japan have further eroded the All Blacks' midfield options.

Ellison, who is currently in South Africa with the Highlanders, is set to turn his back on the All Blacks and return to Japanese club Ricoh.

Highlanders general manager Roger Clark last night confirmed Ellison's deal with the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Highlanders expired at the end of the Super Rugby season.

"This is no surprise to us. He had a two-year deal with us and we have just found out that he has notified the NZRU that he will terminate early," Clark said.

Ellison is with the Highlanders in South Africa preparing for their match against the Kings in Port Elizabeth and could not be contacted.

"We thought there was a good chance he wouldn't renew [his contract] because there is a lot of heat in our market at the moment," Clark added.

Ellison, 30, has played four tests for the All Blacks. He played one test in 2009 before signing for Ricoh in 2010. He returned last year to join the Highlanders and earned three test caps on last year's northern tour.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has already lost another proven midfielder, Richard Kahui, to Japan.

The future of Conrad Smith, the All Blacks' incumbent centre, has also been open to speculation following several concussions.

The latest, against the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend, left the Hurricanes captain unconscious for several minutes and increased concerns that the 31-year-old will not play through to the 2015 World Cup.

The mediocre form of Ma'a Nonu, another midfielder, is also a worry.

The Blues' Rene Ranger, who played three tests in 2010, could back-up Smith but is mulling over an option to play for French club Montpellier.

Ellison's move is likely to enhance Highlanders' teammate Ben Smith's value to Hansen.

The return from the NRL of Sonny Bill Williams, who has indicated he could be back at the Chiefs as early as next year, would also ease the pressure for Hansen.

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