Adam Thomson has finally confirmed he is off to Japan, saying there was no mystery to his destination - the deal simply took time.
Thomson, who turns 31 next month, has signed a two-year contract with the Canon Eagles and will have to be in Japan by April 1 for pre-season training.
Thomson said he felt it was time for him to leave New Zealand rugby.
"I just had this feeling I had done what I wanted to here and it was time to look around for something new," he said. "I love the Highlanders and love the region and it has been a pretty special place for me over the years. But at the end of the day, I have made a decision for the future."
The Highlanders have signed some big names over the off-season and Thomson said it was just bad timing he was now leaving with the side full of potential. The franchise tried to sign Thomson for a short-term contract but had trouble locating him, and any deal was given the thumbs-down by his new club and the New Zealand Rugby Union.
The All Black loose forward's future had been a mystery over past months as he had not announced where he was heading for this season and remained uncontracted for this year. But Thomson, who is now based in Auckland, said the deal was not finalised until the past couple of days, so he could not make any comment.
"I suppose I'm in a unique situation. When most people head to Japan they play a full Super rugby season and then go over. I'm almost doing it in reverse. But they want me over there for a full pre-season."
The Canon Eagles also have former Highlanders Callum Bruce and Kane Thompson on their books and former All Black Isaia Toeava.
Thomson made his All Black debut in 2008 and played 29 tests, the last against Scotland at Murrayfield last year. He played 71 times for the Highlanders and 54 games for Otago.
He was something of a late bloomer, not making the Highlanders until 2008, but has been the franchise's best player for the past five years.
"It has been a roller-coaster ride, really up and down. I took a while to get a start with a Super team and then I just stuck with the Highlanders, and also with Otago. That is almost a bit of a rarity these days, being with one province and franchise the whole time. It's going to be hard to leave the place and I'm really grateful for all the opportunities they have given me."
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