Zac Guildford says leaving New Zealand to play for French club Clermont Auvergne was not an easy decision but felt like the right move to make.
The All Blacks and Crusaders winger has signed a two year contract with Clermont with the option of a third year. He'll leave at the end of the upcoming Super Rugby Season.
"I am hugely grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given here in New Zealand. I have had the honour of playing at the highest level, and I have been fortunate enough to be given second chances," Guildford said.
"Playing for Clermont Auvergne presents new and exciting challenges and I believe that the time is right for me to take this opportunity. Until then, I am going to make the most of the upcoming season with the Crusaders and enjoy playing with the amazing teammates I have here."
The 24-year-old, who has played 10 tests for New Zealand since his debut against Wales in 2009, is contracted to the NZRU until the end of 2014 but has an out-clause with Hawkes Bay and has chosen to exercise that.
It's hard to argue with Guildford's move.
He has had a troubled time over the past few years, with a number of alcohol-related incidents, and he might be looking for a fresh start as well as a chance to cash in at his stage in his professional career.
He is also behind a number of good, young wings on the New Zealand scene like Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Cory Jane and Frank Halai, and had long been linked with a move overseas.
"It's never OK to be losing talented rugby players but Zac has to do what is best for him,'' Hawkes Bay Rugby Union chief executive Mike Bishop said. "He goes with our blessing. He's been a favourite son of ours for the past six or seven years. We would have loved to have seen him stay and play out the rest of his career with us but he's always welcome back here."
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said Guildford would play out the 2014 Crusaders season and leave for France following that.
"Zac has been a core member of the Crusaders since he came on board in 2010. He is a gifted player and has a real passion for the game. He will certainly be missed by his Crusaders teammates but we still have the upcoming season ahead of us and I am sure Zac will continue to be a valuable member of the squad until his departure," Blackadder said.
Guildford made his Hawkes Bay debut in 2007 as an 18-year-old and he was also a member of the gold medal-winning New Zealand sevens team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. His decision to leave New Zealand ultimately rules him out of a shot at an Olympic gold medal with the All Blacks sevens team in Rio.