Jimmy Cowan's move to Gloucester has been confirmed, with the New Zealand Rugby Union announcing the 51 test halfback will leave for the English club later this year.
The announcement should come as no surprise because speculation has been rife in recent months about a possible move for the World Cup-winning squad member.
Cowan is likely to play a pivotal role in the Stags' 2012 campaign if he fails to break into the All Blacks squad for the new Four Nations series.
His All Blacks chances appear slim, given that he was on the outer with the All Blacks at last year's World Cup and is now struggling for game time with the Highlanders.
Cowan is expected to link with Gloucester once his Southland commitments are completed this year.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Cowan had shown great dedication to the black jersey when representing his country.
"Jimmy has been an outstanding All Black and given his all every time he has worn the black jersey.
"Jimmy has the respect of all his teammates because of his commitment to the team and his mates and we are very proud of what he has achieved at all levels of the game."
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph and Southland Rugby general manager Brian Hopley also paid tribute to Cowan's contribution to rugby down south.
"For over a decade Jimmy has been an outstanding ambassador for Southland Rugby. He has shown through his achievements just what is possible by staying loyal," said Hopley.
He has played 94 matches for Southland since his debut in 2000, and a final fling with the Stags, in which he reaches his 100-game milestone, would be a fitting farewell for the feisty halfback before he pursues his career in England.
Cowan has played 51 tests for the All Blacks and 100 games for the Highlanders.
The uncompromising halfback was targeted by Gloucester, who have lost the services of Scottish halfback Rory Lawson.
It is understood that Cowan previously knocked back some big offers to stay in New Zealand, including one from a French club.
Gloucester was one of about six clubs that sounded out the halfback regarding his plans once he comes off contract with the NZRU in October.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Family counts blessings after superbug scare (graphic content)