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Highlanders confirm departure of All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman to France

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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The Highlanders have confirmed that eight-test All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman will leave the side for France after the Super Rugby Pacific season.

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Coltman has signed a two-year deal with Top 14 club Lyon, where he will join former All Blacks and Highlanders teammate Lima Sopoaga, as well as fellow Kiwi stars Jordan Taufua, Charlie Ngatai and Toby Arnold.

In doing so, the 32-year-old will soon bring an end to his decade-long stay with the Highlanders, during which time he has racked up 135 matches for the franchise.

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Chief among the highlights from that period include a Super Rugby title won in 2015, as well as a famous win over the British & Irish Lions in 2017.

Coltman’s performances for the Highlanders earned him an All Blacks debut in 2016, when he came off the bench in a 68-10 win over Italy in Rome.

He went on to play a total of eight tests for the All Blacks, the last of which came in the 2019 World Cup bronze final against Wales.

A World U20 Championship winner with New Zealand in 2010, Coltman has also accrued 73 caps for Otago in the NPC, and was part of the team that ended the province’s 56-year wait for Ranfurly Shield success in 2013.

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As such, Coltman will leave a lasting impression with all the teams he has featured for following his first-class debut 12 years ago.

“I have so many people to thank for the career I have had in Dunedin,” Coltman said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“The great coaches, great players and great mates will mean that I will always think of Dunedin as my rugby home. I never thought of the hard work I do as being a sacrifice in anyway, it’s what I chose to do and what I love doing.

“I never thought I would have all the wonderful opportunities in life that my rugby career has given me, and I am just so grateful to have had them.

“I feel the time is right for me and my family to have some new adventures and we are looking forward to spending time in another country and all the experiences and challenges that will bring.

“I will always be a Highlander at heart, no matter where I am.”

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Highlanders head coach Tony Brown said that Coltman embodied the values of what it means to be a Highlander ever since his first involvement with the team as a wider training squad member in 2011.

“We like our players to be Highlander men and to demonstrate what that means on daily basis,” Brown, Coltman’s long-time coach and former Otago teammate, said.

“Colty will always spring to my mind as a player that I would call a Highlander man. Since day one and throughout his entire time with the club he has been the consummate professional.

“He prepares well every week and consistently delivers a 100 percent effort every time he takes the field. As a coach you can’t ask for more than that.

“Off the field young players need only look to him to see how you professionally manage a decade-plus rugby career.

“He has earned the respect of his fellow players, coaches, and everybody at this club for his approach and of course he does it all with a smile.”

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Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark echoed Brown’s sentiments as he emphasised the significance of Coltman’s long-standing spell at the franchise.

“Rain, hail or shine you could always count on Colty to have a smile on his face and be giving it everything in training or playing,” Clark said.

“To play for over 10 years in the front row for one team is an extraordinary effort and as a club we recognise how fortunate we have been to have Colty for such a long period of time.

“As a club we acknowledge the significant positive contribution he has made and we wish him, his wife Aleisha and children Ruby and Tilly all the very best in France.”

News of Coltman’s defection to Lyon comes a day after it was announced that All Blacks and Blues prop Karl Tu’inukuafe will also leave New Zealand for France this year after having agreed to join Montpellier.

Coltman still has at least two regular season matches remaining in his Highlanders career as the sides looks to cement its playoffs status with a win over the Waratahs in Dunedin on Sunday.

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