All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa says his decision to leave New Zealand Rugby for French giants Toulon was the most difficult of his life.
The 25-year-old Highlanders midfield back laid weeks of speculation to rest by confirming a deal on social media, with his contract beginning later this year.
“It has been the hardest decision of my life to leave New Zealand, but after looking at all the things that are important to me I feel this is the right time for me personally and for my career,” he said.
Malakai Fekitoa helped New Zealand win the 2015 Rugby World Cup. But as a child, he was told he might never walk again. In the 2017 Body Issue, he describes his traumatic childhood injury, the pride of being an All Black and even his spearfishing skills.
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Fekitoa will join former All Blacks inside backs Ma’a Nonu and Luke McAlister at the rich club which has housed numerous big-name southern hemisphere players over the last decade.
Fekitoa’s star has dimmed in 2017 after playing 23 Tests over the previous three seasons, impressing with his explosive running and physical defence.
He was originally overlooked for the just-completed series against the British & Irish Lions but earned a recall for the third Test in Auckland when Sonny Bill Williams was suspended. He played the last 14 minutes of the 15-15 draw.
The length of Fekitoa’s deal is unclear but he hinted at the prospect of a New Zealand return while thanking team-mates and supporters.
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“Doesn’t matter where I go to work. We still have a lot more to do. I hope to return one day with more experience and success.”
Born in Tonga, Fekitoa shifted to New Zealand in his teens and played NPC rugby for Auckland as a 20-year-old.
Unwanted after one truncated Super Rugby campaign with the Blues in 2013, he never looked back after shifting to the Highlanders the following year, helping them win a maiden title in 2015.
Fekitoa leaves at a time when the All Blacks midfield stocks are overflowing. Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown and rookie Ngani Laumape were named for the Lions series, while Charlie Ngatai, Rieko Ioane, George Moala and the uncapped Jack Goodhue are all considered Test calibre midfield candidates.
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