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Muliaina to play in Japan

WELLINGTON, New Zealand,June 2- All Black stalwart Mils Muliaina announced he will play club rugby in Japan after this year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Fullback Muliaina, who shares the record number of 94 All Black Test caps with New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw, said he had signed a two-year contract with Japanese club NTT Docomo from next year.

The move will effectively mean the end of Muliaina’s international career, as the All Blacks do not consider overseas-based players for selection.

The 30-year-old said captaining the All Blacks for three Tests in 2009 and winning a gold medal in the sevens at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester were highlights of his international career.

"I consider myself to have been incredibly lucky with my career in New Zealand," he said on Thursday.

"Rugby has offered me so many wonderful opportunities and experiences that will stay with me forever."

He said he was looking for a new challenge after this year’s World Cup, which runs from September 9 to October 23, when he will play a key role in the host nation’s campaign for its second title.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said Muliaina remained the best fullback in the game and was moving to Japan with the best wishes of the New Zealand camp.

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"He is a special All Black, along with Richie McCaw our most capped Test player, an outstanding footballer who is the best in the world in his position," Henry said.

"Mils is a natural leader, he has tremendous respect of his peers and has helped considerably in the development of younger players."

Muliaina made his All Blacks debut in 2003 and has scored 32 tries for New Zealand.

Former All Black flanker Rodney So’oialo also announced Thursday he would play in Japan next year after signing a two-year deal with Honda Heat.

So’oialo, 31, captained the All Blacks five times in an international career spanning 62 Tests from 2002-2009. He was not in the reckoning for this year’s World Cup.

McCaw and star fly-half Dan Carter have signed contracts to stay in New Zealand after the World Cup, along with 83-Test hooker Keven Mealamu.

However, lock Bran Thorn is also heading to Japan after the tournament, while wingers Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu are bound for French club rugby.

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