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Ulster Rush to sign top back row Kiwi

By Niall Crozier

Ulster's new signing, eight times-capped All Black Xavier Rush, has been described as one of the outstanding back row forwards in European rugby.

The 6'2” and 17st 8lbs back row forward has joined from Cardiff Blues whose chief executive, Robert Norster, admitted: “We have undertaken everything in our powers to retain Xavier's services.

“However, he has decided to make a life change and we respect his desire to do so.”

Ulster’s director of rugby operations, David Humphreys, said: “Success in Northern Hemisphere rugby is built around the pack of forwards.

“Over the past number of seasons, Xavier has been one of the outstanding back row forwards in European rugby and his ball carrying ability and leadership qualities will further strengthen Ulster's pack for next season.”

Head coach, Brian McLaughlin, agreed saying : “Xavier will be a great asset to the Ulster back row. He is an aggressive, attacking player who has played his rugby at the highest level.

“The experience he will bring is of great value and importance to the squad now, and in-terms of future team development.

“Having players of his talent about helps raise the bar for everyone and will help develop our young players to the levels required to play Magners League and Heineken Cup rugby.”

The big Kiwi, 32, plays No 8, the position currently occupied by Ulster’s rapidly-progressing Chris Henry. Clearly the goal is to develop a quality squad.

Humphreys explained: “With the demands on players in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup and the increasing number of injuries in the professional game, it is vital to have depth in key positions throughout the squad.”

Tellingly he added: “Xavier will also play an important role in developing Ulster's young back row forwards.”

Like fellow-newcomer, Springbok Johann Muller, Rush will link up with the Ulster squad on July 1 for pre-season training.

He made his international debut against Australia in 1998 and captained the Auckland Blues to NPC success in 2002 and victory in the Ranfurly Shield and Super 12 title in 2003.

In 2005 he joined Cardiff for whom he has made 96 Magners League and Heineken Cup appearances.

Rush said: “I am delighted to have signed with Ulster, and I am looking forward to becoming a part of a team that has some great young players and plenty of ambition.

“The five years that I spent at Cardiff were terrific, but I felt like it was the right time for a change and a new challenge and moving to a vibrant city like Belfast is going to provide me with that. Also, being on the right side of the Ulster fans for once is going to be great! I now look forward to becoming an Ulsterman.”

Explaining his decision to leave, Rush said: “My original intention, having moved from New Zealand back in 2005, was always to experience life in Europe and after five years in the capital city of Wales, which has been a real privilege, I feel the time is right for a change before I consider the future following my playing career.”

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