Lion tamer Jean de Villiers says the lure of a possible second World Cup winners medal means he will be leaving Irish giants Munster at the end of the current season.
De Villiers was a key figure in South Africa’s summer win over Ian McGeechan’s Lions, with the 28-year-old describing the series as the ‘pinnacle’ of his career.
Two years earlier, the star centre had only played a minor part in the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup triumph after injury in the opening match against Samoa brought his World Cup dream to a premature end.
And his absence from all bar 40 minutes of South Africa’s stunning World Cup campaign last time out has left de Villiers hungry for another shot at global glory.
The former Stormer has admitted he never felt he ‘had made a telling contribution’ three years ago and has even gone as far as to say he was ‘jealous’ of his team-mates who triumphed in Paris that October.
While de Villiers’ own emergency selection for the recent autumn internationals, together with those of fellow Magners League regulars BJ Botha and CJ van der Linde, provided hope that he could continue his Bok career while in Ireland, Springbok head coach Peter de Villiers has made it clear that he only intends to select South African-based players for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
De Villiers has not ruled out a return to the province, however, and British and Irish fans may get another chance to see him in action once he has fulfilled his World Cup ambitions.
"I feel this is perhaps my last opportunity to represent my country at the Rugby World Cup and after consultation with South African Rugby Union it has become clear that to qualify for selection players must be playing their rugby in South Africa in the season leading up to the competition," said de Villiers, who moved to Ireland from Western Province earlier this season.
"I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here in Munster and I think it would be fair to say that had the Rugby World Cup not been a factor, then I would be remaining for at least the next two seasons.
"I would not rule out returning here after RWC 2011 either, if the opportunity arose.
"For now though, my entire focus is on the Magners League and Heineken Cup campaigns. There’s a lot of rugby to be played yet in the red shirt and I’m looking forward immensely to continuing my involvement with a great squad."
De Villiers’ decision to return home has received the blessing of the Munster hierarchy even though they are naturally disappointed to be losing one of the game’s leading figures.
Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald admits the Magners League giants will be disappointed to see de Villiers leave but that the scenario is not an unexpected one for Tony McGahan and his coaching staff.
"Jean made us aware of this scenario before he joined us last September," said Fitzgerald.
"Jean missed the 2003 World Cup through injury and played just 40 minutes in 2007. So his desire to represent his country in the most prestigious rugby competition is totally understandable.
"He has been a hugely positive addition to the squad this season. His influence has grown and continues to grow as he becomes more and more comfortable within the squad.
"While he will be a major loss, we fully respect his ambition and he will leave us at the end of the season with our very best wishes."