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Mathewson lured by pull of Force to get over Blues
(Reuters) - Former All Blacks scrumhalf Alby Mathewson has joined Australia's Western Force for the 2013 Super Rugby season, the second time the 26-year-old has had to move franchises due to the presence of World Cup winner Piri Weepu.
Mathewson, who appeared in four tests for the All Blacks in 2010, previously moved from the Wellington Hurricanes to the Auckland Blues after finding his playing time restricted by Weepu at Super Rugby and provincial level.
Weepu, however, defected to Auckland this year after Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett embarked on a rebuilding programme in 2011 and while the scrumhalf was offered a contract to stay, he opted to move north to New Zealand's largest city.
That move, despite Weepu's well-publicised battles with his weight and fitness during this year's Super Rugby season, again restricted Mathewson's playing opportunities.
A new generation of scrumhalves, including Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and TJ Perenara, also moved into national prominence this season and New Zealand's 2010 Super Rugby Player of the Year jumped at the opportunity to move to Australia.
"This is an excellent opportunity for me and one I'm really looking forward to," said Mathewson, who will temporarily shelve any hopes of playing again for the All Blacks.
The New Zealand Rugby Union has a strict policy of picking only players based in New Zealand for the All Blacks.
"I've really enjoyed my time at the Blues but this is a chance for me to challenge myself in a new environment, play a different style of rugby and it's a prospect that really excites me," he added.
Mathewson's recruitment will be a boost for the Force, who are rebuilding after several high-profile exits in recent years and were seeking a scrumhalf after Will Genia flip-flopped on heading to Perth and re-signed with the Queensland Reds earlier this season.
Former New South Wales Waratahs coach Michael Foley will also join the team next season after Richard Graham was sacked when he said he would take over from Ewen McKenzie at the Reds in 2013.
The Force have never finished higher than seventh since their debut in Super Rugby in 2006 and were second to last this season, and Mathewson said being part of a rebuilding project had excited him.
"The Force are entering a really exciting period with a new coach coming in, and it's a great chance to be part of building something special and for this playing group to leave a significant legacy at the club," Mathewson added.
"They obviously experienced a tough season this year, but sides have shown that things can be turned around quickly and from my discussions with the club things are certainly heading in the right direction."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O'Brien)
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