He is doing what's best for the All Blacks
Veteran All Black lock Ali Williams called time on his international career Friday, after playing 77 Tests over the past 11 years.
He made the announcement on the social media site Twitter with the message "It's that time" and a link to a video message in which the 32-year-old confirmed he was stepping down immediately.
"Guys, I just want to let you know first that I'm retiring from international rugby. I'm hanging up the black jersey. It's been an amazing 10 years but it's time to call it quits," he said.
He later fronted up at a formal media briefing to confirm the decision.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said he respected Williams' decision to retire and go out on his terms.
"By retiring he is doing what's best for the All Blacks and showing a tremendous amount of integrity by putting the team ahead of himself."
"He knew he may have been selected for the All Blacks again this year, but he also knows that it is better for the team to have a younger player in the position.
"Ali has been a fantastic All Black. He is a player who has always worn his heart on his sleeve, he is a real character who loved being an All Black and wearing the jersey proudly and representing his country, and that's what we love about him.
"He would have played a lot more games for the team if injuries hadn't robbed him of the opportunity. But it took a lot of courage to come back to top–flight rugby and that is a measure of the man and shows just how much he loves the game."
The announcement came just days after Williams took part as one of five locks in an All Blacks pre-season training camp and just two weeks before the start of a three-Test tour by France.
In recent years the All Blacks have developed three promising young locks in Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick, who appear to have overtaken Williams in the All Blacks selectors' eyes.
Rising Crusaders middle row forward Dominic Bird, who was also in the training camp, is seen as next in line to earn a Test cap.
Williams was called into the All Blacks for the end-of-year tour to the Northern Hemisphere in 2002 and played his first Test against England in London on November 9 that year.
He played in three World Cups, including the successful 2011 campaign, and his last Test was against Italy on November 17 last year.
Throughout his illustrious career, Williams played 77 Tests plus one additional match against the Barbarians in 2004 and scored seven Test tries.
In recent years his international appearances have been restricted by a series of Achilles and knee injuries.
"It took a lot of courage to come back to top flight rugby and that is a measure of the man and shows just how much he loves the game," Hansen said.
Williams said he would continue to play Super Rugby with the Blues.
The New Zealand Rugby Union paid tribute to Williams.
The 32-year-old Williams retires from the All Blacks as the second most capped lock of all time.
Blues coach John Kirwan said: "I'm incredibly proud of Ali; it must have been a very difficult decision for him to make. A lot of players at his stage in their career are looking to go overseas, but he really wants to commit to the Blues and stay here and help this young side grow and achieve their goals, which is fantastic.
"He's been a great All Black and I'm looking forward to him being fully committed and focussed on the Blues and enjoying himself."
New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew added: "Ali has been one of the great servants of New Zealand rugby and, on behalf of New Zealand Rugby, we congratulate him on his All Blacks career. He still has a lot to offer the game here, is obviously making an outstanding contribution to the Blues and wants to continue doing that which is great for New Zealand rugby."
Ali Williams bio:
Full name: Alexander James Williams
Born: 30 April 1981 in Auckland
Physical: 2.02m, 119 kg
Super Rugby team: Blues
All Blacks Tests: 77
Total All Blacks games: 78 (77 Tests plus one match against the Barbarians in 2004)
All Blacks Test points: 35 (seven tries)
All Blacks Number: 1022
All Blacks Debut: 9 November 2002, vs England at London, aged 21 years, 193 days
Last Test: 17 November 2012, vs Italy at Rome, aged 31 years, 201 days
Ali Williams was called into the All Blacks for the end-of-year-tour to Europe in 2002 on the back of strong performances for his Auckland provincial side and the Blues Super Rugby team. He made his Test debut on 9 November against England at Twickenham and quickly established himself as a first-choice lock in the national side, combining his athletic skill in the open with his core set-piece roles, especially in line-outs.
One of the most colourful characters to play for the All Blacks in recent times, he was selected for the 2003 Rugby World Cup and was in outstanding form in 2005: he impressed in the British and Irish Lions Series, scoring two tries, starred in the All Blacks "Grand Slam" tour of the UK and Ireland and was named by the New Zealand Rugby Almanack as one of its five players of the year.
In 2007 his season was cut short when he suffered a broken jaw in the second Test of the year against France but he recovered in time to take a full role in the Rugby World Cup later that year, playing in four of the five matches. In 2008 he formed a formidable second row combination with Brad Thorn but his All Blacks career was put on hold in 2009 and 2010 when he suffered major Achilles injuries and underwent three operations.
He played his way back into the All Blacks in 2011 and was a member of the victorious 2011 Rugby World Cup squad. Injury struck again in 2012 when Williams suffered a serious knee injury in the second Test of the year against Ireland. He returned to the squad for the Air New Zealand European Tour playing his 77th Test against Italy on 17 November. His 77 Test caps include 16 Tests against Australia, 14 against South Africa and 11 against France.