WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Julian Savea has become the second former All Blacks winger to leave French club Toulon this week and return to New Zealand to try to continue his professional rugby career.
Savea’s former Wellington Hurricanes and All Blacks team mate Nehe Milner-Skudder confirmed on Wednesday that injury had forced him to cut short his contract with Toulon and sign with the Otago Highlanders.
The moves come after French officials said last month they would cancel the remainder of the 2019/20 season because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Obviously the season’s done and I’m coming home soon hopefully, once everything dies down,” Savea said in a video on his Instagram account on Thursday.
“I guess trying to get back into New Zealand rugby maybe or find another contract, that’s a five month, six-month timeline in terms of what can happen because of COVID-19 still going.”
The 29-year-old said he would ideally like to re-sign with the Hurricanes, but would also contemplate a move to Japan or even consider a switch to rugby league in Australia’s National Rugby League.
After helping the All Blacks to the 2015 Rugby World Cup title, Savea signed a lucrative long-term deal with New Zealand Rugby but his form fell off dramatically and he was granted an early release in 2018 to join Toulon on a two-year contract.
The winger, however, failed to make the impact expected of him, with club owner Mourad Boudjellal launching a furious tirade about his performances last year.
“I’m going to ask for a DNA test. They must have swapped him on the plane. If I were him I would apologise and go back to my home country,” Mourad Boudjellal told French radio RMC in February, 2019.
“I’ve told him that he was free to go and wasn’t welcome at Toulon anymore.”
Savea vowed to see out his contract at the Top 14 club, but said the cancellation of the season had been a catalyst for his desire to return home.
“Its been a bit tough but with COVID-19, clubs are not signing anyone and don’t really have that money to offer people so that made my decision easy,” he said.
“For me it’s better off being in New Zealand, close to family, and I get to train back with the boys and just get my body and my mind ready to go for whatever’s next, whether that’s in New Zealand or somewhere else overseas.
“First and foremost I just want to get home.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Richard Pullin