Former All Blacks lock Dominic Bird will return to New Zealand from France next year after signing a deal with the Hurricanes for the 2022 Super Rugby season.
Bird has been plying his trade with Top 14 side Racing 92 since leaving the Chiefs in 2018, but will return for a second stint in New Zealand rugby, which will begin later this year when he suits up for Wellington in the NPC.
The 30-year-old, who played two tests for the All Blacks between 2013 and 2014, said he was excited to come home and partake in a new professional competition featuring the 10 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman franchises, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua.
“I’m excited to be getting back into Super Rugby next year and returning to NZ with my family to live,” he said in a statement released by the Hurricanes.
“We’ve enjoyed our time with Racing Metro in France, and I feel like I’ve been playing some of my best rugby up there, but now is the right time to return home. I’m looking forward to testing myself again in Super Rugby and adding huge value to the Hurricanes in 2022.”
In addition to his test match experience, Bird has also spent his fair share of time in Super Rugby, having debuted for the Crusaders in 2013.
After notching up 31 appearances under the tutelage of Todd Blackadder, Bird moved north to the Chiefs ahead of the 2016 season, where he racked up 27 matches before departing for Paris two years later.
During his time in the French capital, Bird has featured regularly for one of Europe’s most reputable clubs, playing alongside a hoard of household names at the Paris La Defense Arena.
Starring alongside the likes of Finn Russell, Simon Zebo, Pat Lambie, Joe Rokocoko, Kurtley Beale, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Imhoff, Donncha Ryan, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa and Camille Chat, to name a few, Bird has helped Racing 92 challenge for silverware both domestically and continentally since his arrival.
Bird started for Racing 92 in their European Champions Cup final defeat to Exeter Chiefs in Bristol last year and his side remains in contention to claim their first French league title since 2016 with four rounds remaining in the Top 14 regular season.
That adds to the Super Rugby play-offs experience Bird garnered with both the Crusaders and Chiefs and the six provincial titles he won with Canterbury, which leaves Hurricanes head coach Jason Holland excited about the arrival of the 2.06m second rower.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing Dom turn up and show his experience for the Wellington Lions before he comes into our group,” Holland said of Bird, whose experience will help minimise the impact of the potential losses of seasoned forwards Vaea Fifita, Ricky Riccitelli and Gareth Evans, all of whom are off-contract this year.
The Hurricanes have scored a big win over the Highlanders in Wellington – but was the collective effort better than the individual performances on the night? #SuperRugbyAotearoa #HURvHIGhttps://t.co/U1JmQiwiYu
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 30, 2021
“Speaking with him, we know how much he wants to prove himself again in New Zealand rugby and you can’t beat the sort of experience he will bring to us.
“He’s a big man who has shown he can match it with some of the toughest forwards in a really challenging competition and we think he will bring real value to the club.”
The return of Bird adds to the trend of offshore-based Kiwis making their way back to New Zealand after stints abroad.
Former All Blacks wing Julian Savea has been used frequently by the Hurricanes since his arrival back at the franchise from Toulon this year and has since signed a contract extension that will keep him in Wellington until 2023.
The Hurricanes also lured back first-five Simon Hickey from Europe, where he had been playing for Scottish club Edinburgh, but an ACL injury sustained during pre-season ended his campaign before it started.
The Highlanders also dipped into the offshore market in the lead-up to the current season, picking up former All Blacks duo Liam Squire and Bryn Evans from NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes and Sale Sharks, respectively.
The Blues, meanwhile, signed ex-Chiefs wing Bryce Heem from Toulon just a week-and-a-half before the 2021 campaign kicked-off.
Fresh after their 35-29 defeat to cross-town rivals Stade Francais over the weekend, Bird’s Racing 92 side will continue their run to the Top 14 finals with a home clash against fellow title hopefuls Clermont this Saturday.
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