In a huge blow for Australian rugby, Wallabies playmaker Matt Toomua will head to Europe in his prime after signing a three-year deal with Leicester starting from mid-2016.
It was announced on Monday the powerhouse English club had lured the Brumbies utility back to Welford Road from the end of next Super Rugby season.
Toomua’s departure adds to the recent post-World Cup exodus of top Wallabies to cashed-up English and French clubs, including Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Sekope Kepu and James Horwill.
However, Toomua’s loss will be a bitter pill to swallow for Australian rugby given he’s a 25-year-old proven performer in the Wallabies jersey – having already won 31 Test caps – and with a long international career at his feet.
A five-eighth or inside centre, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika opted to start Toomua in only one World Cup match last month – against Uruguay – with Matt Giteau preferred at No.12.
With 33-year-old Giteau back at his French club Toulon, Toomua was likely to play a big role in the Wallabies midfield over the coming seasons.
Now, the earliest Toomua will be available for Wallabies selection will be 2019.
“It is no secret we have been looking to sign a top-class player to add to our back-line resources and Matt is certainly in that category,” Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill said.
“He is still a young man, but has already achieved such a lot in Super Rugby and played extensively in Test rugby for the Wallabies.”
Toomua’s move will also spark speculation over the sporting future for his fiancee, dual international Ellyse Perry, and whether she’ll be able to continue playing for the Australian cricket team and in the domestic W-League soccer competition.