A lucrative contract in Italy has proved too tempting for Taranaki loose forward Samuela Vunisa.
Vunisa has been released by Taranaki Rugby to further his career with the Calvisano club, where he played this year during the New Zealand off-season.
The 23-year-old, who was voted Taranaki's most promising player in 2011, will return to Italy next month.
While Vunisa was unavailable for comment yesterday, a Taranaki Rugby statement said the deal provided him with the financial security he was looking for, as well as an opportunity to develop his professional career.
News of his departure surfaced several weeks ago but it is believed he signed his new contract only this week.
His loss means Taranaki will be without their two first-choice No 8s from last season after the union could not fit Ben Souness under their salary cap for 2012.
Depending on Blade Thomson's fitness, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper could have to use rookie Heiden Bedwell-Curtis at No 8, although he has several loose forward options available to him.
Cooper held meetings with Vunisa before Taranaki opted to release him from his deal with the Ranfurly Shield holders.
"We considered the merits of the offer, including the financial benefits and his personal rugby development," he said.
"When considering all these factors, it really was an offer too good to refuse. Samu leaves with our blessing and our best wishes for the future."
The news of Vunisa's departure comes hot on the heels of Chiefs hooker Mahonri Schwalger's decision also not to return to Taranaki after the former Samoa captain opted to sign with ITM Cup championship side Counties-Manukau.
Nevertheless, Cooper remained upbeat about the depth available in the province. "Leo [assistant coach Leo Crowley] and I have been working with the senior A teams extensively this season," he said.
"We are impressed and excited by the wealth of talent coming through the system and the quality of rugby being played. It is because of this depth we feel comfortable letting Samu move on."
Vunisa leaves for Italy having made 28 appearances for Taranaki over three seasons.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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