New Zealand rugby's worst kept secret is out - All Blacks second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu will play for the Highlanders next season.
The 30-year-old announced his shift south from the Blues at a brief two minute press conference in Christchurch today.
It is yet another blow for new Blues coach Sir John Kirwan after the Highlanders also snared All Black prop Tony Woodcock for their 2013 squad.
"It's been a.... can I say s***y on TV.... probably not.... it has been an average 24 hours," Kirwan said in a candid interview on theblues.co.nz
"Ma'a is not coming. I'm disappointed in him, I'm disappointed in the process, I'm disappointed (too) but in a weird sort of way I'm happy because it's time to move on...."
Kirwan says the Blues channelled their player recruitment to other positions once they believed Nonu was staying.
"One of the most disappointing things is we thought Ma'a was coming and so we have made some pretty strong, hard decisions that might have changed if we knew a little earlier," he said.
The Blues still have some midfield options of clout. Frances Saili, Malaki Fekitoa, Rene Ranger and George Moala are viable alternatives, but had Kirwan known Nonu was leaving he could have pursued other players such as Hadleigh Parkes, Bundee Aki or Shaun Treeby, who have all since announced they are heading elsewhere.
"For me I want people who really want to love this town, this region, this jersey. This is my home man and I'm not going to let anyone stand in my way or our way to making sure this is about the jersey and the franchise," Kirwan said.
Nonu, who has played under Jamie Joseph with Wellington, said the major reason for signing with the Highlanders was because it was the "best decision'' for his family.
He said the "finer details'' are being worked out by his manager, the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Highlanders.
Nonu said he spoke to Kirwan last week.
"As I said before it has got nothing to do with the Blues. It is a decision I have made for myself and my family.''
Although it was understood Nonu had signed with the Blues for next season, he appears to have an exit clause that allowed him to join the Highlanders.
When quizzed on this, he stated: "You will have to ask the manager about the contract system mate. I just play footy.''
Rugby World Cup 2011 winner Brad Thorn is also expected to announce his move to the Highlanders in the next few days.
Joseph said that a deal with Nonu would be a major boost for the southern franchise, and the region as a whole, ahead of the full franchise squad being confirmed at the end of the month.
"Ma'a has been a standout performer for the All Blacks over his playing career and he would bring some great playing form to our squad next season. He has a lot of big match experience at international level and we know that we would benefit from that," Joseph said.
"Ma'a has indicated he sees many advantages for him and his family in being part of the Highlanders environment and we would welcome that. We're very proud of the support we give to the families of our players, and the support we get in return is a vital part of the strong family-focus we have within the Highlanders," he added.
Nonu has played 71 Tests for the All Blacks since his debut in 2003 against England in Wellington. He has also had a Super Rugby career for both the Hurricanes and Blues playing a total 124 games.