The Queensland Reds have been dealt a blow with hard-working flanker Liam Gill set to join the growing hordes of Australian rugby players in France next year.
Gill will depart the Reds after his sixth season with the Super Rugby franchise to take up a contract with Toulon, currently home to Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and James O’Connor.
It means the 15-Test Wallaby will be unavailable for national team selection beyond this year, further crippling Australia’s back-row stocks amid reports David Pocock will take a sabbatical from rugby in 2017 to study in England.
Reports have also linked Pocock to a possible move to Ballymore the following season, where he would be reunited with current Brumbies teammate and Wallabies captain Stephen Moore, who will join the Reds next year.
Gill’s modest wages are not being topped up by the Australian Rugby Union, with the 23-year-old finding himself frozen out of the Wallabies selection frame despite a career-best 2015 campaign with the Reds, winning the Stan Pilecki medal.
That has left Queensland vulnerable to a raid on Gill by Toulon and their colourful billionaire owner, French comic book tycoon Mourad Boudjellal.
“It’s disappointing to be losing Liam to an overseas club, but we understand he has weighed up his options and decided this was too good an opportunity to refuse,” the Reds’ executive general manager Daniel Herbert said.
“He has international aspirations but plays in a position in which Australia have significant depth and he felt he would have limited Wallaby opportunities.
“Whilst we are disappointed to see him go there are limitations to what we are currently able to do if players garner overseas interest and aren’t in the top band of Wallabies.
“We hoped a flexible contract would encourage Liam to stay in Queensland and Australia but in the end he felt this was his best option all things considered.
“We know his focus will remain on the Reds while he is still at Ballymore and hope his final year with us is a successful one.”
Gill said it was a “very difficult decision” to reach.
“I felt the time was right to challenge myself and play rugby in a different environment,” he said.
“I feel I have done as much as I can in Australian Rugby and now look to enjoy a new opportunity.
“It’s really difficult to leave the Reds, but I’m excited by the opportunity this current group has for the season.
“This news just gives me even more drive to repay the faith of the QRU and the support of our fans.”