Edinburgh Rugby today celebrated a major signing coup, announcing that All-Blacks’ back Ben Atiga will join the side next season from Super 15 side Highlanders on a two-year contract.?
The 28-year-old arrives with a wealth of Super Rugby experience and provincial championship success, as part of an all-star Auckland Blues side from 2004 to 2008, where he kept the company of fellow All Blacks Joe Rokocoko, Keven Mealamu and Luke McAllister, as well as popular Irish imports Isa Nacewa (Leinster) and Doug Howlett (Munster) – in a spell which also saw the province lift the Air New Zealand Cup three times (2003, 2005 and 2007).?
A New Zealand age-grade prodigy, Atiga’s trophy-littered career kicked off when he left Auckland Grammar School in 2003, when he lifted the IRB’s Junior World Championship trophy on his second and third outings in the tournament, reaching the semi-final in 2002, picking up the Junior World Player of the Year award in 2003 and captaining the side to glory in 2004.?
It was between these age-grade triumphs that he earned his single New Zealand cap, as an injury replacement in the nation’s 2003 Rugby World Cup campaign, and for his part of the side’s ruthless pool stage destruction of Tonga (91-7).? ?
His international honours were followed by his four-year tenure at the Auckland Blues before pulling on the famous black jersey once again, this time at Twickenham for Gordon Tietjens’ HSBC Sevens World Series winning New Zealand side of 2007.
With 2012/13 season tickets set to go on sale this week, Atiga’s arrival, which is subject to visa, is the latest to be welcomed by Edinburgh Rugby fans, who'll cheer on at least six new recruits next season, with Scots qualified Nothampton Saints back Greig Tonks (back/centre), Welsh internationalists John Yapp (prop) and Richie Rees (scrum-half), Georgian Rugby World Cup number 8, Dimitri Basilaia; and Super Rugby prop WP Nel already secured, while 19 of the club’s top performers have recently extended their contracts at the capital club.
Edinburgh Rugby head coach, Michael Bradley, said: “Ben [Atiga] has proven his ability on some of the toughest stages in world rugby and will be a formidable option at centre and full-back for Edinburgh Rugby for at least the next two seasons.
“He’s a very impressive package of agility, power and skill, accommodating 100 kilograms of muscle into a 5’10” frame, and I believe he’ll make a big impact at this club, both from a performance perspective but also in bringing on the many talented young players we have at the club.
“This season Edinburgh Rugby made history by reaching the Heineken Cup semi-final for the first time but we’re not finished yet. We want to be challenging for honours in all competitions and believe we are making the right appointments in the right places to mount that kind of campaign in the seasons ahead.”
?Having lived the high-performance lifestyle from his school days, Atiga opted to take a season out of the sport in 2009, but returned refreshed as part of Auckland’s ITM Cup semi-final side the following season before being recruited by Otago.
Subsequently he earned selection for the Highlanders, marking his return to Super Rugby and playing a crucial role in ending a 30-year drought for the south islanders at Eden Park against his former province, Auckland, a record which he had spent his formative years battling to protect.?
?When the Otagu Union was hit by financial crisis in 2011, Atiga opted to take voluntary redundancy and seek out a new challenge, at which point the call came from Edinburgh Rugby.
In addition to the well-documented affiliation between Scotland and New Zealand, the Kiwi explained his fondness for his new home was harboured in three separate tours to the country, making the decision to join an easy one.
“It all happened very fast, probably in the space of about three weeks,” explained Atiga.
“The club were very interested in what I could bring to the table from a playing perspective but Michael [Bradley] also explained that he would be looking for me to play a leadership role and help bring on young Scottish players, a role which I’ve played with New Zealanders for the last couple of seasons and one which I’m looking forward to doing for Edinburgh Rugby.
“I toured Scotland with my school in 2000, with New Zealand Schools in 2001 and was based in Edinburgh with the New Zealand U20 side in 2004, when the Junior World Championships were in Glasgow, so it’s reassuring to have experienced my new home through rugby already.
“Playing rugby overseas has always been something that’s appealed to me. I’ve had loads of calls from fellow players at home and abroad telling me how beautiful the city is and how lucky I am to get this opportunity.
“I’m delighted to have signed and now just looking forward to getting on the pitch for my new club and doing my best for Edinburgh Rugby.”
Ben Atiga (28)
Born: 5 May, 1983 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Height: 1.80m (5’10”), weight: 100kg (15st 10lb)
Provincial debut: Auckland v North Harbour (2002)
Super Rugby debut: Blues v Chiefs (2003)
International honours: New Zealand U19, U20, All Blacks (1 cap, v Tonga in 2003)
Super Rugby caps: 46
Super Rugby points: 75 (6 tries, 6 conversions, 11 penalties)