New Zealand rugby has today paid tribute to All Blacks, Highlanders and Southland halfback Jimmy Cowan who has announced he will be leaving New Zealand to play for English club Gloucester.
30-year-old Cowan, who is currently in the midst of his tenth year with the Highlanders, will leave for Gloucester later in the year but will be available for Southand in the ITM Cup where he is just six games short of reaching the ton for his beloved province after reaching 100 games for the Higlanders earlier this year.
It seems unlikey that he will add to his 51 caps for the All Blacks after making his making his Test debut against Italy on the 2004 Northern Hemisphere tour.
In last year's World Cup he slipped to be the All Blacks' third choice halfback behind Piri Weepu and Andy Ellis and this season he has quickly become the Highlanders' second choice halfback behind the promising, Aaron Smith.
"I think everyone comes to a point in their career when they know it is time to leave and I feel that with myself," Cowan said.
Often critisied for his short temper and inability to pass flutenly off the ground, Cowan showed what he meant to his All Black team-mates when he led the the victory chant following the 8-7 World Cup final win over France.
"Jimmy has been an outstanding All Black and given his all every time he has worn the black jersey, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
"He is a passionate player and fantastic team man who wears his heart on his sleeve. 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. When he does go, he goes with the best wishes of the team."
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for Cowan. After missing selection for the All Blacks' 2007 World Cup campaign, Cowan hit the headlines the following year for a number of alcohol induced incidents which all cumulated in an ultimatum from the NZRU: to ditch the booze or risk us ripping up your contract.
He took the wiser option and New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew recognised his growth in a statement.
"Jimmy is one of the real characters of New Zealand rugby and
has grown so much as a player and a person since coming onto the
scene more than a decade ago. He has been an incredibly loyal
player - for his club, province, the Highlanders and the All Blacks
- and we wish him well," Tew said.
The 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.
Cowan made his provincial debut for Southland in 2000 and in 2004 at the age of 22 became the youngest player to play 50 games for his province. He made his Highlanders debut in 2003, was New Zealand's Super Rugby player of the year in 2005 and captained the Highlanders in 2010.
If he were to rack up his 100th game for the Stags this season, he would leave New Zealand as a provincial and Super Rugby centurion as well as having played over 50 Tests, a feat that only Tana Umaga has achieved.