All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu has revealed that he plans to leave the Blues and play for the Highlanders in the 2013 Super Rugby season.
Highlanders Head Coach Jamie Joseph says that a deal with Nonu would be a major boost for the southern franchise, and the region as a whole, ahead of the full franchise squad being confirmed at the end of the month.
"Ma'a has been a standout performer for the All Blacks over his playing career and he would bring some great playing form to our squad next season. He has a lot of big match experience at international level and we know that we would benefit from that," Joseph said.
"Ma'a has indicated he sees many advantages for him and his family in being part of the Highlanders environment and we would welcome that. We're very proud of the support we give to the families of our players, and the support we get in return is a vital part of the strong family-focus we have within the Highlanders," he added.
Nonu has played 71 tests for the All Blacks since his debut in 2003 against England in Wellington. He has also had a stellar Super Rugby career for both the Hurricanes and Blues playing a total 124 games. His move south will add to this impressive playing record at Super level.
Highlanders General Manager Roger Clark commented that signing Nonu would be considered a real coup for the franchise.
"Ma'a is a world-class player who would add real excitement to the Highlanders in 2013. It's testament to the work the coaching and management team have put in both on and off the field that a player like Ma'a has decided he'd like to join us."
Subject to contract negotiations being finalised, Nonu will join the Highlanders for pre-season training early in the New Year following his All Blacks commitments for the Air New Zealand European Tour.
Blues coach John Kirwan said he was disappointed with Nonu's decision, believing he had a handshake deal with the powerhouse midfielder to remain in Auckland.
"I am obviously disappointed," Kirwan said. "The lateness in the decision has really put us in a difficult situation, but we are going to have a young, exciting young team and we'll move on."
Nonu is the second high-profile Blues player to move to the Highlanders during the off-season, with prop Tony Woodcock also defecting after a disappointing season in which the Blues finished 12th on the Super 15 standings.