WELLINGTON World Cup-winning prop Charlie Faumuina has confirmed he will leave New Zealand rugby next year and join French side Toulouse after the British and Irish Lions series against the All Blacks.
The 30-year-old had been linked with a number of European clubs and with Owen Franks re-signing with New Zealand Rugby until 2019, Faumuina's hopes of establishing himself the first choice tighthead ahead of the 2019 World Cup all but ended.
Franks, who is 29, has had an iron grip on the number three jersey since his international debut against Italy in 2009 and has since racked up 90 caps.
Faumuina has 46 caps, most coming off the bench in place of Franks. He will head to France after next year's Super Rugby season and be available for the Lions tour in June.
"I would just like to thank New Zealand Rugby, the Blues and Auckland Rugby, for everything they have done for me throughout my career," Faumuina said in a statement on Thursday.
"I'm looking forward to my last season in New Zealand, making it a successful one with the Blues and hopefully getting the chance to play for the All Blacks in the ... Lions series."
Faumuina made his Super Rugby debut in 2009 and his All Blacks debut against Argentina in 2012.
His departure robs All Blacks coach Steve Hansen of depth at tighthead prop, with Ofa Tu'ungafasi still finding his feet at international level, with just four tests off the bench this year.
Nepo Laulala, however, should come back into contention after he missed all rugby this year with a serious knee injury.
He impressed in his four appearances for the All Blacks in 2015.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ian Ransom)