Tipoki boost for depleted Cantabs

By Wynne Gray

Unwanted by the Blues next season, midfielder Rua Tipoki could have stayed in Auckland and collected his full Super 14 salary.

Instead, the North Harbour captain has transferred provinces and will be a key component for the depleted Crusaders as they try to defend their title.

If selected, Tipoki's first game in his new Super 14 colours will be against the Blues at Eden Park next February.

"I have not been in red and black since my days at Gisborne Boys High," Tipoki said yesterday after it was revealed he had shifted from North Harbour to Canterbury.

"My options were to go overseas or rip into the Super 14. I did not want to fade away."

When Tipoki received a huge repeat offer to play for the Munster club in Ireland a few weeks ago, he approached Blues coach David Nucifora to find out his chances of selection next season.

"He told me he couldn't fit me in so then I had to sort out my options," Tipoki said.

The decision was to stay and play somewhere, though Tipoki could have collected his wages in Auckland on the player welfare exemption he was granted this year.

"It was not that many months ago I was playing for the Blues and I did not feel out of depth there. It is a matter of getting fresh mentally and I have always wondered what it would be like to be involved with the Crusaders.

"I have seen Rico [Gear], Caleb [Ralph] and Cribby [Ron Cribb] go down there and develop so now I can find out what it is like."

Nucifora told Tipoki there was no room for him in the Blues midfield where Luke McAlister, Sam Tuitupou, Isa Nacewa, Ben Atiga, Isaia Toeava and Anthony Tuitavake will be pitching for selection.

"He wants to play for us and that will be a lifeline for both of us," Crusaders coach Robbie Deans said. "We needed a voice and initiative in our side because a big part of our leadership has gone for half of next year."

Aaron Mauger will be away on All Black conditioning duties, Cameron McIntyre is heading overseas and Deans admitted he was not doing well for replacements until Tipoki surfaced.

Harbour coach Allan Pollock said he could not agree with Nucifora's decision but he could understand the difficulties because of the logjam of talent. Tipoki had been a standout for the Blues this season until he was banned for 16 weeks for punching the Force's James Hilgendorf.

Pollock hoped his skipper would return for the next Air New Zealand Cup series.

Other player transfers revealed by the NZRU were Bay of Plenty prop James Afoa moving to North Harbour, Canterbury midfielder Aaron Bancroft shifting to Otago, Canterbury loose forward George Naoupu going to Hawkes Bay and lock Bernie Upton switching from Bay of Plenty to Wellington. Super 14 squads are named on October 27.

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