Out of favour All Blacks winger Julian Savea is set to sign a two-year deal with Top 14 club Toulon, according to French media.
French publication RMC Sports reports that Savea, who wasn't named in the All Blacks squad for the current Frenchs series, will replace Fijian winger Semi Radradra who has signed with rivals Bordeaux.
Former All Black Ma'a Nonu also recently announced his departure from the club.
New Zealand Rugby would need to release Savea, who last played for the All Blacks in the third test against Lions last year. He has scored 46 tries in 54 tests
Savea signed a four-year deal with New Zealand Rugby in May 2015 that made him one of the highest-paid players in New Zealand history, earning an estimated $800,000 a year.
But his star has fallen far and fast since he re-committed. Having struggled through 2015 and 2016 due to a lack of conditioning which led to a loss of form, he was dropped by both the Hurricanes and All Blacks last year.
Still 27, and with two years of his contract to run, Savea is determined to strike form with the Hurricanes this year and force his way back into the All Blacks. But he failed to make the 32-man squad to face France.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been patient and encouraging - insisting the big wing, known as The Bus, has what it takes to return to the national fold - but Savea is going to have to battle past not only his own demons, but an extended list of back three challengers, including Rieko Ioane, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Jordie Barrett, Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Savea didn't test the offshore market during his last renegotiation, but several French clubs said they would have offered in excess of €1 million a season to have signed the then 24-year-old, which would have made him the highest paid player in the world.
It is understood that Savea's market value in Europe hasn't been negatively affected by his loss of form in recent years
NZR could be willing to overlook the months left in Savea's contract in order to trim their wage bill by jettisoning a high earner who is no longer cutting it.
They may also feel they need a compensation payment to grant an early release to Savea - a fee paid by the purchasing club.
Compensation payments are not uncommon - it's often the case that departing New Zealand players are released a month before their contracts expire. Typically NZR will set the compensation payment at about one month's salary for the player in question.
But in Savea's case, given the length of time his contract still has to run, NZR could legitimately set the compensation fee at $1.2 million.
The temptation to recuperate such a significant sum will be high, but the danger is that it could encourage major European clubs to target other high profile All Blacks mid-contract, with a precedent set by NZ Rugby that it is willing to trade someone if the price is right.
European clubs have already shown they are willing to pay major fees to get what they want, with Montpellier stumping up almost $2 million to extract No8 Louis Picamoles one year into a three-year contract with Northampton, and Leicester paying $500,000 plus a key player to sign England first-five George Ford halfway through his contract with Bath.
There are mixed feelings at NZR about the widespread introduction of compensation or transfer fees. Although they bring in revenue, they don't serve as a deterrent or barrier. In fact, many European clubs take pride in being able to pay them.
But such is the pressure in the market at the moment, NZR is having to review and consider all its options and available mechanisms to keep players in New Zealand.
- Additional reporting by Gregor Paul
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