Tu'inukuafe opts for Blues over Highlanders

Karl Tu'inukuafe speaks at a capping ceremony following the test between the All Blacks and...
Karl Tu'inukuafe speaks at a capping ceremony following the test between the All Blacks and France. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders have lost another one they never had.

First the rumours this week about former Australian first five-eighth Quade Cooper popping up at the franchise next year proved unfounded. Then the Blues swoop in and announce they have signed All Black and North Harbour prop Karl Tu'inukuafe on a three-year deal.

Tu'inukuafe was linked to a move south earlier in the month. Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark confirmed the franchise had approached the 25-year-old but did not make much progress.

"He was definitely a guy we had a talk to but, as you can see from the announcement, it did not go positively for us," Clark said.

"It was pretty obvious that his family was pretty settled in that part of that world. It's home and given the opportunity he was probably going to stay up there.

"It is always worth a shot when you get a player who has as much upside as he has."

The Highlanders have a vacancy in the front row following the departure of Guy Millar to France. Tu'inukuafe would have been a fine acquisition for the Highlanders.

The former schoolboy star struggled with his weight after leaving school and returned to the sport following a warning from his doctor to reduce his 170kg frame.

He made his debut for North Harbour in 2015 and made big strides forward last season. But it was his form as a replacement for the Chiefs this season which led to his selection for the All Blacks.

"It is exciting for my family and me to be coming home," Tu'inukuafe said.

"I think we have a strong squad for next year. I have my Harbour coach Tom Coventry coming in to take the forwards and I get to stay in the region," Tu'inukuafe said.

"The set-up at the Blues looks great and I am going to enjoy being part of this club and hopefully I can do my part in helping the club do well."

Tu'inukuafe struck up a strong relationship with Blues prop Ofa Tuungafasi while with the All Blacks and is keen to be part of a maturing forward pack, Blues coach Tana Umaga said.

"Karl has been one of the real finds in New Zealand rugby in the last couple of years, and will only get better and better," Umaga noted.

"He will be a really strong addition to our pack and gives us real depth in our front row with the likes of Ofa and Alex Hodgman.

"While Karl is comparatively new to the sport at this level, he will provide leadership to our young front rowers emerging in the club."

All Black coach Steve Hansen said Tu'inukuafe's recommitment to New Zealand was fantastic news for New Zealand Rugby.

"Big Karl really impressed us in his first campaign with the All Blacks in June," Hansen said.

"He's a humble man and very low-key, but he went about his work in a very professional manner.

"We all saw how destructive he can be as a scrummager but he's also nailing his other core roles.

"He's eager to learn and he made great strides in the black jersey. We look forward to working with Karl in the future."


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