Wallabies winger Digby Ioane will leave the Queensland Reds and Australian rugby later this year after signing a massive two-year contract with French glamour club Stade Francais.
It’s understood Ioane will reap almost $2.5 million but the deal will severely endanger his chances of playing in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Queensland Rugby Union chief executive Jim Carmichael on Thursday night confirmed French radio reports the world-class back would link with the Parisian club at the end of the year.
Ioane is regarded among the best wingers in the game and his loss is a major blow to both the Wallabies and the Reds.
One of the country’s highest-paid rugby players, earning a reported $800,000 per season, the 34-Test flyer had another year to run on his Reds contract but his ARU deal expired at the end of 2013.
Despite a stand-off between the Reds and Ioane’s management last week over alleged third-party payments he felt were owed to him, Carmichael stressed it was an amicable departure.
The pair met face-to-face this week and Carmichael said there were no hard feelings about Ioane taking the chance to provide long-term financial security for his family.
“He goes with our absolute blessing,” Carmichael said.
“I’m reassured about his feelings toward the Reds and his teammates and he’ll always be a part of the Reds family.
“If he chooses to come back to Australian rugby after a couple of years I hope he picks up the phone and we’ll welcome him back with open arms.”
While the French season starts in September, the ARU would be unlikely to release him from his current contract until after the spring tour of Europe in late November.
Ioane would still be regarded among the half-dozen certain selections in Robbie Deans’ Wallabies starting 15 to play the British and Irish Lions next month.
Ioane’s deal looks set to end his chances of playing a second World Cup, kicking off in September 2015 in England, as ARU guidelines stipulate that players must be involved in Super Rugby to be eligible.
The addition of the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-raised 27-year-old is a huge coup for Stade Francais – formerly coached by Australians Michael Cheika, Ewen McKenzie and John Connolly – as they are currently struggling in ninth on the Top 14 ladder.