New Blues recruit Jackson Willison said he found it hard to come to terms with being de-listed by the Chiefs, even though he was told they'd take him back in the draft.
Willison is set to play a huge role in the Blues campaign next year, filling the void left by Ma'a Nonu, but he admits he never thought he'd end up joining Sir John Kirwan's new-look team.
"This was probably the last place on earth where I thought I'd be, just up the highway," Willison said.
"But I'm happy to be amongst this group of boys."
Willison revealed that, while he understood Chiefs coach Dave Rennie's plan was to pick him up in the draft, he felt hurt by the de-listing from the team's initial squad of 28.
"Dave still says that they wanted me but it was hard to take at first," Willison said.
"As time moved on it got a bit easier, but I guess my head was somewhere else and now it's in Auckland."
Everything changed in Willison's world when Nonu turned his back on the Blues and Kirwan found himself in desperate need of a quality No 12. Willison said the former All Blacks wing didn't take long to get in touch with him.
"It was a couple of days after that happened," he said.
"I was just chilling out and I got a phone call from Sir John and it took me by surprise.
"I was trying to sort out what option was best for me, whether it was to remain in Hamilton or look overseas, but JK's call put something else into the mix and I'm really grateful about that."
Willison said he met Rennie to discuss his future and then came to the decision that the Blues was the best option for him, rather than allowing the Chiefs to pick him in the draft.
"I asked Dave if I could sit down and have a chat with him and go over with him what I thought was best for my rugby career," Willison said.
"I identified that a move up to the Blues was more beneficial than trying to ply my trade in Hamilton.
"Dave, Smithy [Wayne Smith] and the other coaches were really understanding of what I needed for my rugby and I've ended up here."
Although Kirwan wanted Willison, he chose not to include him in his initial 28, but take him from the draft.
"We really wanted him in our 28 but we also had to try to protect another player," said Kirwan.
"When you de-list a player they get a choice, so I used that card. He was definitely in our 28 from a selection point of view, but I had to secure Malakai Fekitoa."
Willison has had to be patient throughout his Super Rugby career.
It looked like the former NZ under-20 player would be the first choice second-five for the Chiefs this year, but that plan was scuppered when Sonny Bill Williams chose the Chiefs over the Blues.
If he'd decided to stay in Hamilton next year he'd be battling with Bundee Aki and Andrew Horrell for a starting jersey. At the Blues he only has the inexperienced Francis Saili as his main competition.
"The biggest reason for my move up north was to get regular games," he said. "I feel comfortable at this level and I feel like I have a lot more to offer than the odd bench spot."
Willison will spend the next few weeks looking for accommodation in Auckland but has already found a tenant for his place in Hamilton - new Chiefs recruit Ross Filipo.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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