Avalon loose forward Thomas Waldrom has signed with the Wellington Lions
Wellington Lions coach Chris Gibbes confirmed on Monday that Waldrom would return to New Zealand following the completion of the Exeter Chiefs season to play in the Men's NPC competition.
Gibbes felt Waldrom's experience would be invaluable for the squad as it prepares to return to the NPC Premiership.
"The game is getting young and signing Thomas will provide us with not only what he brings on the field but his experience off it as a seasoned professional and that's exactly what he is," he said.
"That was part of the attraction of bringing a guy like Thomas into our programme."
Waldrom made his Test debut in South Africa in June and went on to play four Tests in 2012.
After making his debut for Wellington in 2001 (80 caps) and the Hurricanes in 2004 (29 caps), Waldrom moved to the Crusaders and Canterbury in 2009, where he also played for the Hawke’s Bay Magpies.
He also combined an impressive 22 caps for New Zealand Secondary Schools (2001), New Zealand U19s (2001-2002) and the New Zealand U21s (2002-2003) in his formative years. He also played for New Zealand Maori in 2006, and then again in 2008.
He moved to the United Kingdom where he was a big part of the Leicester Tigers success for four seasons while he was also caped four times with England. He has spent the past four seasons playing for the Exeter Chefs.
Gibbes said Waldrom was a "well known icon" of Wellington and New Zealand rugby who has gone overseas and proven himself.
"He wants to come home and play for Wellington and put something back to a place where he started. His form and his game is still there and we are excited to have a guy like that coming back into our programme."
Waldrom believed it was the right time for his family to move back to New Zealand and to get his two young boys into the New Zealand way of living.
"I will hold Exeter as a special place in my heart I have had a great time here, all the coaches and players are great I can’t express how hard it was to leave but family had to come first," he said. "I will enjoy my last few months with them before returning home."
Waldrom still remembered when he put his first Lions jersey on in 2000.
"To be able to put it back on in 2018 will mean as much to me as it did to me then. It would be awesome to have my two boys watching me where I first started my professional career.
"I have had a lot of great memories when I was with the Lions playing with so many of the great players that have worn the Wellington Lions jersey.
"Coming back to where it has all started for me is going to be special and a challenge, one that I’m looking forward to. I will be able to pass on a lot of the experience I have built up while I have been away to the young lads."
Waldrom last played for Avalon in 2008.