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Former England halfback returns to New Zealand for 2022 NPC season

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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A former England player who helped knock the All Blacks out of the 2019 World Cup has signed with Canterbury for the 2022 NPC season.

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Kiwi-born halfback Willi Heinz will return to Canterbury after seven years abroad in England, the country of which he played 13 tests for between 2019 and 2020.

Qualified for England through his grandmother, Heinz featured off the bench in England’s famous 19-7 World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks in 2019.

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The 33-year-old also made 100 appearances for Premiership club Gloucester during his time in England, and was twice a runner-up with the club in the second-tier European Challenge Cup.

After having spending the 2021-22 season with Worcester Warriors, Heinz returns to Canterbury after playing the last of his 52 matches for the province in 2015, the same year in which he made the last of his 58 outings for the Crusaders.

During his first spell with Canterbury, Heinz won six national titles between 2009 and 2015, and played for the Crusaders in the 2014 Super Rugby final.

A member of England’s title-winning Six Nations squad two years ago, Heinz is back in Christchurch playing club rugby for the Linwood Bulls, and is excited by the prospect of a second stint with Canterbury.

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“I loved my time in England and my family and I gained some incredible friends, had wonderful experiences, and feel truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience UK life,” Heinz said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“It is awesome being back in Christchurch and seeing the remarkable transformation the city has gone through. There’s nothing quite like Canterbury.

“It’s where I grew up, where my family is, and to get the opportunity to play again for Canterbury is quite surreal really.

“It’s a real privilege to play for Canterbury you get to play in front of your friends and family and the style of rugby is really enjoyable.

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“I’ve always felt so passionate about this team and feel as determined as ever to contribute to a successful season.

“The NPC is fast and fun, so it’s about enjoying our rugby but understanding the opportunity we have as a group to deliver something special for our people and inspire the next generation of young Cantabrians.”

News of Heinz’s return to Canterbury comes a day after it was announced that former All Blacks flanker Matt Todd will be one of four new Canterbury coaches for the upcoming domestic season.

Canterbury will open its 2022 NPC campaign against Manawatu in the competition’s season-opener at Central Energy Trust Arena in Palmerston North on August 5.

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