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Ex-All Blacks star announces injury-enforced retirement aged 29

By Alex McLeod
INPHO/Billy Stickland / www.photosport.nz

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Former All Blacks hooker Nathan Harris has announced his retirement from all forms of rugby due to the ongoing effects of a persistent ankle injury.

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The 29-year-old has struggled for game time in recent years after having been sidelined as a result of multiple injuries to his left ankle, which he first ruptured during his second test match against the USA Eagles in Chicago in 2014.

That ruled him out of contention for the 2015 World Cup, and five years later, his 2019 World Cup hopes were dashed when he fractured the same ankle while playing for Bay of Plenty against Auckland.

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While recovering from his second major ankle injury, Harris also underwent shoulder surgery to fix his rotator cuff, keeping him out of Super Rugby action for the Chiefs last year.

Eyeing a return to rugby via the 2020 NPC, Harris suffered a further setback when he was told his ankle wasn’t healing as it was supposed to, which meant further surgery and added an extra six-to-nine months to his recovery timeframe.

All in all, it wasn’t until April this year when Harris next played at first-class level as he came off the bench for the Chiefs in their Super Rugby Aotearoa win over the Crusaders in Hamilton – 22 months after his last outing.

That proved to be just one of four games that Harris would play for the Chiefs this year, with his six appearances for Bay of Plenty over the past few months acting as his final matches in his professional career.

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“It has been a massive year and it is time to hang up the boots. After playing 10 years of footy, my ankle has had enough, and it is time to move onto something new,” Harris said in a statement.

“It has been a really hard decision but at the end of the day, my body and my family come first.

“Next year I am looking at finishing my studies at the University of Waikato, moving into post grad, and finally achieving my ultimate goal since leaving school and becoming a physical education teacher.”

By announcing his rugby retirement, Harris has brought the curtain down on a successful playing spell that saw him play 22 games, 20 of which were tests, for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2018.

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Perhaps the highlight of his international career were the three tests he came off the bench in against the British and Irish Lions in 2017, while he was also part of three Rugby Championship-winning and two Bledisloe Cup-winning All Blacks squads.

The former New Zealand U20 and Maori All Blacks representative also accrued 58 appearances for the Chiefs between 2014 and 2021 and was a stalwart of 42 Bay of Plenty matches since his provincial debut in 2012.

Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan – who also coached Harris at the Maori All Blacks and Bay of Plenty – acknowledged the hooker’s efforts both domestically and internationally.

“Nathan has been an outstanding contributor for the Chiefs, All Blacks and Bay of Plenty,” McMillan said.

“He is recognised among coaches and his peers as one of the best scrummaging hookers in the country. He had a lot of quality years still ahead of him but unfortunately, his injuries have caught up with him.”

“He has been an outstanding Chief. Even though he has battled through injuries through campaigns, he has always been the one to put the team first, whichever team that may have been.

“It is a true testament to his character. We wish him and his family all the best for their next chapter.”

Chiefs chief executive Michael Collins echoed McMillan’s sentiments as he made note of Harris’ resilience and fortitude.

“Nathan, a passionate ‘Steamer’ who has been a valuable member of the Chiefs Rugby Club since his debut in 2014. He has demonstrated across the years his resilience and determination to continue to perform at his best.

“Nathan’s contribution to the club has been outstanding he is widely recognised by our Chiefs whanau for his work ethic and his humility, we wish him all the best for the future. He piko, he taniwha! Once a Chief always a Chief.”

Harris – who is the second former All Black, after Liam Squire, forced into retirement due to injury this year – thanked his former teams for the opportunities they had provided him throughout his career.

“Thank you to the All Blacks, the Chiefs, Bay of Plenty Steamers and Te Puke Sports fans for the continued support over the years,” he said.

“I am really looking forward to the next chapter of my life and will continue to support the teams from the sideline.”

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