Magpies winger Mason Emerson is winging it for France.
The 25-year-old Hastings Rugby & Sports and Magpies flyer has signed a two-year contract with French Division 2 club Valence Romans and will leave for France in the next couple of weeks.
Emerson has made himself available for the Magpies for the last time in their Ranfurly Shield defence against North Otago tonight and coach Mark Ozich has selected him to start on the wing in what will be his 48th game for the province.
An emotional Emerson said it was "bittersweet".
"If I'm honest, leaving the Magpies, who have been such an integral part of my life and playing career is going to be tough, but also the prospect of playing and living in France is an exciting one.
"It was a decision for both me and my partner, Sarah.
"We are at a time in our lives where our current responsibilities allow us to make a move like this, and we want to take the opportunity and enjoy the experiences that this provides.
"Hawke's Bay will always be home, so it's a bit of a 'see you soon' as opposed to 'see you later'."
Ozich said the popular wing's departure wasn't the best timing for the Magpies but was "fantastic timing for him and Sarah to travel and for Mason to challenge himself in another environment".
"We love Mason and he's a popular member of the team and an outstanding rugby player. He departs with our best wishes and I'm certain we will see him again at a later stage back in the black and white hoops."
Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chief executive Jay Campbell said he asked the flyer to reconsider.
"But sometimes opportunities like this present themselves and therefore he goes with our blessing.
"Mase has been a great servant for the Magpies and knowing how much this team means to him, I'm positive the 50 (caps) will be the motivation for him to return when the timing is right."
Emerson said being stranded on 48 caps was motivation to return. "That's if the body is still up for it.''
The Magpies defend the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in 2021 against North Otago at McLean Park tonight with kickoff at 7.05pm. Gates open from 6pm.
In a late change to the side, captain and hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes has withdrawn through injury with Jacob Devery being promoted to start with Emerson's ex-Lindisfarne team-mate Gene Symington coming onto the bench as hooking cover.
Central Rugby & Sports Lock Tom Parsons will skipper the side in Kereru-Symes' absence.
* Tickets are available online at hbmagpies.co.nz or from the gate tonight, $12.50 for adults and $5 for kids in the Harris and Chapman stands.