Ulster deny All Blacks prop John Afoa was asked to stay on next season

The province issued a statement that counters reports of a plea for the New Zealander to sign a contract extension.

John Afoa played his final Ulster game in the Heineken Cup quarter final exit to Saracens.
John Afoa played his final Ulster game in the Heineken Cup quarter final exit to Saracens.
Image: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

ULSTER RUGBY HAVE moved quick to deny reports that All Blacks prop John Afoa was asked to sign a contract extension by director of rugby David Humphreys.

Afoa is moving to Gloucester in the summer after three seasons with Ulster. The province did not offer him a new deal, they say, because the believed he would be returning to New Zealand. Afoa’s wife and three children still live in New Zealand, having returned home in December 2012.

Ulster have been understanding with the 30-year-old that he could return home for two and three week blocks during the season, with the prop given a training regime to carry out when home. Afoa, in an interview in today’s Belfast Telegraph, says it was ‘too hard’ to stay on in Belfast, despite Humphreys’ pleas.

The Ulster statement, however, refutes those claims. It reads, “Contrary to reports in this morning’s media, Ulster Rugby would like to clarify that at no point were there any discussions with John Afoa or his representatives about extending his contract to allow him to remain with the Province. Due to his personal circumstances, it was understood that he would be seeking a return to New Zealand to be with his family.

While a world class player when fit and available, Ulster Rugby’s intention has always been to replace Afoa with a top-class tighthead prop who could ultimately play for Ireland. That has been achieved through the signing of project-player Wiehahn Herbst.

“In December it was announced that he had signed a contract with Gloucester and Ulster Rugby would like to wish him well in the next chapter of his career.”

Afoa played 58 times for Ulster and scored three tries. He made only 15 outings this season, his lowest return since his arrival to the club in 2011. He appeared in the Heineken Cup and Pro12 final losses to Leinster in 2012 and 2013 respectively. He was capped 36 times by New Zealand and was a World Cup winner in 2011.

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Patrick McCarry

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