French club Pau have continued their raid of New Zealand talent after signing Luke Whitelock on a reported three-year deal.
The seven test All Blacks No 8 and Highlanders co-captain will be a somewhat surprising deflection.
The 28-year-old has been knocking on the door of national selection for several years, having made his test debut in 2013.
Last year he featured in five tests, including the match in Tokyo where he captained the All Blacks to the 69-31 victory.
With Kieran Read set to join Japanese club Toyota after the World Cup, Whitelock's strong defensive and lineout abilities would have been in the mix, along with Blues No 8 Akira Ioane, to replace the All Blacks captain at the back of the scrum.
Reports from France instead suggest Pau coach Simon Mannix and president Bernard Pontneau have lured Whitelock to join All Blacks fullback and fellow Highlander Ben Smith next season.
Smith has signed a seven-month contract – from November to May – and is then expected to play in Japan.
Whitelock is the latest example of valuable, experienced fringe All Blacks being picked off in World Cup year.