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Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 09:32 UK

Hape switches codes to join Bath

Shontayne Hape
Hape suffered two serious knee injuries during his time at Bradford

Bradford Bulls star Shontayne Hape has signed a three-year deal to join rugby union side Bath for an undisclosed fee.

Hape, 26, has secured an early release from his Bulls contract and will leave on 30 June after six years at the club. The New Zealand international said: "It was a very difficult decision to make. The Bulls have done so much for me.

"The main reason was the opportunities rugby union can offer, but I also feel I need a new challenge. The best thing for me and my family is to move on."

Hape is the obvious replacement for Bath's England centre Olly Barkley, who is joining Gloucester later this summer.

The centre, who qualifies for England on residency grounds, is now poised to follow his former Bulls colleague Lesley Vainikolo into the Premiership.

Vainikolo signed for Gloucester last year and has since won five England caps.

Bath are no strangers to recruiting rugby league players, having landed Jason Robinson and Henry Paul on short-term winter contracts in 1996, while Leeds star Chev Walker moved to the Rec in 2006.

But despite being tipped as having the potential to gain a place in England's World Cup squad, Walker's cross-code switch did not work out and he returned to rugby league with Hull KR in Sptember last year.

Nevertheless, Bath head coach Steve Meehan feels that Hape is well-equipped to switch codes.

"I think the game that we play will suit his skillset, and he comes into a side that have just won a competition so we'll be running off the back of a good season," Meehan told BBC Radio Bristol.

"As a result of all those things he can concentrate on learning the subtleties of the game and we don't have to rush him into anyway.

"We can make sure that he's properly prepared - he was very keen to make sure that he got his release by the end of June so he could start the pre-season and get as much time under his belt before competition matches start."

He has put his heart and soul into Bradford Bulls and we would not stand in the way of this opportunity

Bradford coach Steve McNamara
Hape joined Bradford Bulls from New Zealand Warriors and has scored 83 tries in 131 games, while also making 14 Test match appearances for New Zealand.

His departure is a blow for Bulls coach Steve McNamara, who said: "Shontayne is a fantastic player and he has been a great servant. He will be a big loss to us, but I fully understand his position.

"Everyone has big decisions to make at certain stages of their careers and Shontayne is at a crossroads and has decided to follow a certain path.

"He goes with our blessing. He has put his heart and soul into Bradford Bulls and we would not stand in the way of this opportunity. I wish him every success in the future."

see also
Emotional Borthwick hails Cup win
25 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Bath secure Challenge Cup glory
25 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Barkley quits Bath for Gloucester
22 Feb 08 |  Gloucester
Hape is mixing with the best
23 Oct 07 |  Rugby League
Hape suffers serious knee injury
27 Mar 07 |  Bradford
Hape hits out as Paul quits Bulls
26 Oct 05 |  Bradford
Hape signs new Bradford contract
28 Sep 05 |  Bradford
Injured Hape out for six months
25 Jan 05 |  Bradford
Hape handed chance against Lions
04 Nov 04 |  International

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