In a move that will send shockwaves through Australian rugby, a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise is in talks to sign one of the standout Wallabies in 2020 for next season.
The Herald understands playmaker James O'Connor has approached the Chiefs about moving to New Zealand in 2021, citing a desire to play in the world's toughest domestic competition Super Rugby Aotearoa and regularly test himself against the best.
O'Connor returned to Australia from the Sale Sharks in 2019, signing a two-and-a-half-year deal with Rugby Australia and the Queensland Reds, having not played for the Wallabies since 2013.
While O'Connor is keen to join the Chiefs next year he wants to continue representing the Wallabies after impressing under Dave Rennie this season.
Last September Rugby Australia announced two players contracted to overseas clubs who do not meet the 60-cap and seven-year service threshold under the 'Giteau Law' can be selected for the Wallabies.
The Herald understands O'Connor met Rennie on Friday to convey his wishes to join the Chiefs and will then attempt to negotiate an exit from his Reds contract.
The move is, therefore, considered a 50/50 prospect, with no guarantees Rugby Australia will agree to his exit request. No decision is expected before next week, with New Zealand Rugby granting the Chiefs an extension to finalise their squad.
O'Connor sounded out several All Blacks about the potential of playing in Super Rugby Aotearoa next year and believes the experience would greatly benefit his game.
The 30-year-old's parents are New Zealanders, and he holds a Kiwi passport after spending the early stages of his life here, so he views the potential move to the Chiefs as a homecoming of sorts.
After losing former All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden to Japan the Chiefs have first five-eighths Bryn Gatland and Kaleb Trask on their books for 2021.
Damian McKenzie, largely used at fullback by the Chiefs, can also slot in at No 10 if needed but the prospect of securing an experienced figure such as O'Connor, who can cover every backline position outside halfback, is a chance the Hamilton-based franchise has jumped at.
O'Connor has long been prodigiously talented but off-field incidents plagued his early career, culminating in messy exits from Australian rugby.
He was the second-youngest to debut for the Wallabies in 2008, and the youngest to play Super Rugby at 17 when he came off the bench for the Western Force against the Reds that same year.
O'Connor has since represented six professional clubs across England, France and Australia but confirmed his reformed ways with an influential 2020 campaign in which he helped guide the Reds to the Super Rugby AU final.
He then impressed in the opening Bledisloe Cup draw against the All Blacks in Wellington from first-five, and after being sidelined for three matches by injury he returned for the final Tri Nations match as Rennie's first-choice No 10.
The Chiefs are far from alone in chasing a foreign player to complete their 2021 roster.
Last week the Herald revealed the Blues are attempting to sign Pumas midfielder Santiago Chocobares as the final member of their squad, though visa issues relating to Covid-19 are believed to be complicating that pursuit.
The Highlanders have also secured Japanese No 8 Kazuki Himeno, one of the standouts at last year's World Cup. Last season South African wing Kobus van Wyk made eight appearances for the Hurricanes.
New Zealand Super Rugby squads are limited to a maximum of three foreign players, with one of those spots dedicated to Pacific Island players.