Willie Ripia signs for Force
New Zealand rugby has lost talented inside back Willie Ripia to Australia, with his signing to the Western Force.
Ripia will play with the Force for the next two Super rugby seasons after signing on as a foreign development player. The Force said he had committed his international future to Australian rugby.
Ripia, 24, has played in 30 Super rugby matches, 29 of them for the Wellington-based Hurricanes this season. He starred in Taranaki's 33-23 win over Waikato in a national championship match at the weekend, kicking 15 points.
"It was no secret that finding a quality flyhalf was top of the list in our off season recruiting and in Willie we believe we have achieved just that," RugbyWA chief Vern Reid said.
"Willie is an exciting young player who has the added benefit of experience at Super rugby level. He has something special about him and will add that 'X' factor to our attack.
Ripia said getting game and playing in his preferred position at first five-eighth was a huge incentive for him to shift to Perth.
"I've been in and around the New Zealand system for a while now and thought it was time to challenge myself and my football," he said in a statement. "I think this is the right move personally and I'm determined to prove it'll be the right move for the Force as well.
"In the time I spent looking at the club and meeting the people there I could see the great culture they've built, that is something I'm really big on. It was definitely one of the big drivers for me to sign on."
He made his Super rugby debut for the Highlanders as a substitute against the Force in 2006 and was the starting pivot for the Hurricanes when the Force travelled to Wellington earlier this year.
Ripia, who played for the New Zealand Maori in their wins against England and Ireland this year, also played for New Zealand in the under 19 and under 21 grades.
He said he would be delighted to pull on the Australian jersey should the opportunity arise, but his first aim was to help the Force improve their Super status.
"I haven't given a lot of thought about much else other than wanting to do my best for the Force. If I can be consistently good for my club then other opportunities might come around but I'm focused on doing a job for my team right now," he said.