Crusaders No.9 Willi Heinz to join Gloucester

English Premiership Rugby club Gloucester have announced that they have signed Crusaders Super Rugby scrum-half Willi Heinz for next season.

Heinz has captained Canterbury in the ITM Cup, represented the Crusaders more than 50 times in Super Rugby, and gained such popularity with the Canterbury supporters that they dedicated a Facebook page to him.

And his signing is a very important one for Gloucester admits Director of Rugby David Humphreys, ” “Scrum half is a key position in any side and, with Dan Robson choosing to move on at the end of the season, we wanted to add some experience and strength in depth to our half backs.

“We already have two quality number nines in Greig Laidlaw, the current Scotland captain, and Callum Braley, who we believe will develop into an International scrum half. Adding Willi to the mix will give us another option and someone who brings experience and leadership qualities to our young playing group.

“And that’s going to be more important than ever next season with World Cup commitments and the nature of the domestic and European fixture calendar once that tournament is over.

“Willi has been a stand out performer in a Canterbury side that hasn’t finished any lower than fourth in Super Rugby since 2001. His experience of playing in that competition, for such a successful franchise will be a very welcome addition to our squad.

“We’ve been speaking to him for quite some time now and I know that he’s genuinely excited to be joining us. I think he’s going to play a very key role over the next few years, not just in terms of how he plays but how he brings the best out of the people around him. “

Meanwhile, speaking to the club website from New Zealand, Heinz commented that he’s looking forward hugely to continuing his rugby career in the Northern Hemisphere.

“I’ve always taken an interest in the Premiership, it’s hard, tough rugby and an outstanding competition. And there’s the chance to play in Europe as well, which is an added draw. It’s an intriguing prospect and I’m looking forward to taking part in it.

“Since starting to talk to David (Humphreys), I’ve started to watch as much of Gloucester as I can. They seem to play a really exciting brand of footy and the whole club seems pretty driven to get back to the top of the English game.

“It’s my understanding that Gloucester traditionally is a stronghold of English rugby. That appeals to me and I’m excited about doing what I can to contribute to something like that. “

The Christchurch born player is the third New Zealander confirmed as moving to Kingsholm next season, with a fourth already in place in John Afoa, and he’s impressed with the quality of the recruits to date.

“I don’t know Jeremy that well. I’ve played against him a few times and he’s a tough opponent. But I played alongside Tom for a couple of seasons at the Crusaders. He’s a fine player and I’m looking forward to hooking up with him again.

“And everyone down here has a huge amount of respect for Laurie Fisher and what he’s achieved with the Brumbies over the years. He’s a great thinker of the game and I’m hoping to learn as much as I can from him. “

Finally, although currently sidelined with a leg injury, he admits the prospect of embarking on a new chapter with Gloucester is giving him something to work towards as he works his way back to fitness.

“Absolutely. It gives me real motivation going forward. I’m trying to get this leg right as quickly as possible so that, when I make the trip over to Gloucester, I’m fit, raring to go and ready to play my part straightaway. “

“I have had the most amazing six years playing here in Canterbury and it is certainly not easy to make the decision to leave that chapter of your playing career behind. I feel privileged to have played with some of the world’s best players here, as well as making lifelong friendships. I have also been fortunate enough to have learnt from some world-class coaches, and I will always be grateful for that.

“However my family and I have decided that the end of this Super Rugby season is the right time to start a new chapter in our lives. Gloucester as a city and a rugby club appeals to me, and the fact that I have English descent through my grandmother makes it an even easier choice. I am looking forward to the challenge of playing somewhere new and the opportunity to continue to develop my game,’ Heinz said.

Crusaders Head Coach Todd Blackadder paid tribute to Heinz’s character and talent.

“There is no better team-man than Willi Heinz. He is a talented player who is only getting better, a gifted leader who earns the respect of all around him, and an amazing mate to everyone here. We will sincerely miss WIlli’s presence around here, but intend to enjoy every moment we have with him this season,’ Blackadder said.

The 28 year old will join the current Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw and the hugely promising Callum Braley as scrum-half options for the Cherry and Whites from 2015-16.

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