Highlanders co-captain and Māori All Blacks captain Ash Dixon is headed to Japan.
Dixon has signed a two-year deal to play in the new Japanese League One competition which starts in January next year.
The veteran hooker began his Super Rugby career with the Hurricanes, before joining the Highlanders in 2015 where he co-captained the team alongside halfback Aaron Smith.
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark praised Dixon, “He has been an integral part of the club since his arrival, he has significant mana within the team and has put an enormous amount of work into our organisation. He goes with our good wishes and gratitude.”
The 32-year-old Dixon played his 100th game for the Highlanders in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final against the Blues. He says the decision to leave was tough.
“I’ve put a lot of thought into it and it was not an easy decision for myself and my family to make. I’ve had some incredibly great times with the team, and I will cherish them forever,” he said.
Dixon boasts 19 appearances for the Māori All Blacks including captaining the team against Samoa this year.
New Zealand Rugby general manager professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum paid tribute to Dixon’s character, achievements and unique place in the whutupōro whānau.
“He leaves as one of the most capped Māori All Blacks captains of all time, and a leader of huge influence for both the Highlanders and Hawke’s Bay,” he said.
Highlanders head coach Tony Brown says Dixon leaves big boots to fill.
“Ash will be remembered as one of the great Highlander’s men; his contribution to the club both on and off the field has been immense. As co-captain, he has been the ultimate professional and we wish him, Mikayla, Paiyton and Boston all the very best with this fantastic opportunity.”
Dixon paid tribute to the team’s supporters.
“The fans have been absolutely incredible. The love and kindness shown to me and my family has been amazing, and we will be forever grateful, thank you all so much,” he said.