All Blacks loose forward Tanerau Latimer will return to Super Rugby in New Zealand with the Blues in 2016, the franchise confirmed on Monday.
The 29-year-old has the support from his current team, Toshiba Brave Lupus, to play Super Rugby before returning to them in Japan.
Latimer, a five Test All Black, Maori All Black and Commonwealth Games gold medallist with the New Zealand Sevens, played 109 times for the Chiefs after making his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2006.
He moved to Japan last year but jumped at the opportunity to return for the season to the Blues where he will be a stand-in for young loose forward Akira Ioane who is ear-marked for the All Black Sevens campaign.
“The club (Toshiba) has been great and very supportive, but I have missed the tough physical nature of Super Rugby on a week-in, week-out basis,” Latimer told the Blues website.
Latimer revealed the lure of playing under new Blues coach Tana Umaga was a major factor in his decision, as well as the chance to take a leadership role with a young team.
“I never thought my Super Rugby days were over and that there was always a possibility that I would come back to play,” he said.
“I’ve always admired Tana and he was a big attraction for me. He has had a lot of success with Counties Manukau and he has been in and around the Chiefs environment during my time there. He has a lot of mana and is someone that I hold in high regard.
“I saw the Blues names when the team was announced and it is a very young group. Every group needs some old heads around. I see my biggest asset will be to offer some leadership and guidance and to set standards during training and games.”
He added: “I am so grateful to my Toshiba club for their support and I think I will be an even better player for them for this experience when I return.
“It is a fantastic challenge with a new team, a new environment, a new city but one that me and my family are very much looking forward to.”
Umaga said the signing of Latimer was a major one for the team.
“We have a very young and exciting group. Tanerau always set high standards for himself and his teammates on and off the field, and his influence will be massive for us,” he said.
“I am sure he will return in great shape and will not take long to get back into the swing of things. He is a player that I admire and one who can play a significant role for us.”