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Williams heads home to Auckland
NZPA
September 19, 2008
Ali Williams of the Crusaders watches from the bench during the Rotomahana Challenge match between the New South Wales Waratahs and the Crusaders at Sydney Football Stadium February 7, 2008 in Sydney, Australia.
Williams featured for the Crusaders in thisyear's Super 14 © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Ali Williams

A southern rugby sabbatical was just that for Ali Williams, with the All Blacks lock today predictably confirming his return to Auckland and the Blues.

In what always appeared a short-term arrangement, Williams has returned to his home province after a coaching fall out with former Blues coach David Nucifora instigated his season-long move to Christchurch and the Super 14 champion Crusaders.

When Nucifora announced his intention to return to Australia it was always likely Williams would opt to return home, once the franchise's new coaching structure was settled.

The appointment of Pat Lam as Nucifora's successor and Robbie Deans' defection to the Wallabies smoothed the way for the 55-test veteran to return to Auckland, where he may combine in the Blues second row with younger brother Jay.

Williams confirmed he had signed a two-year deal with the Auckland Rugby Union, though considering his senior All Black status it was unlikely he would turn out frequently for them.

However, he will be a key acquisition for the under-performing Blues.

"Ali's a quality player as shown by his performance for the All Blacks this year," Lam said.

"We've worked together for many years and I'm thrilled he'll be with Auckland rugby and the Blues next season."

Williams opted for the Crusaders after a highly-publicised fall out with Nucifora, which saw him sent home from South Africa last year due to off-field indiscretions.

His desire to be coached by Deans -- who took the Wallabies job after losing out to All Blacks incumbent Graham Henry -- influenced his shift to Christchurch, though he also has a strong relationship with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

Williams signed for Tasman, a transfer that eased his availability for the Crusaders, but was unlikely to play for the struggling province before it drops out of the Air NZ Cup.

He has been instructed to rest after an arduous season that culminated with the All Blacks retaining the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup.

The 27-year-old formed an imposing second row combination alongside Brad Thorn, who Deans also cajoled into a second stint at rugby, with the pair now rated as the first choice locking combination in New Zealand.

Canterbury Rugby Football Union chief executive Hamish Riach was sad to see Williams depart and had tried to convince him to stay.

"Ali wanted to have a change last year for his own reasons, we were happy to provide that opportunity and he made a big contribution to a successful team," he said.

"We were delighted to have him and would have been delighted to have him a bit longer but we respect his decision and wish him well."

Williams said he was looking forward to playing for Auckland and the Blues again.

"Auckland's my home town and I'm looking forward to returning. I enjoy playing for Pat and (assistant) Shane Howarth and it will be good to line up alongside some of my old teammates again next year."

Williams said he would always value his time in Christchurch.

"I would like to thank the Crusaders staff and players for making my time with the team an enjoyable experience. I will look back on my time there with fond memories."

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