Australian rugby has been dealt another blow with Wallabies winger and cult figure Nick Cummins set to play in Japan next year.
Cummins has signed with Japanese club Coca Cola West Red Sparks.
The 15-Test winger, known as the Honey Badger for his hard-running style, had signed with the Western Force and Australian Rugby Union until the end of 2015, but has been granted an early release due to personal circumstances.
Cummins joins Waratahs second rower Kane Douglas and Brumbies captain Ben Mowen to leave Australia before next year's World Cup amid a tight financial environment in Australia.
My family is currently enduring some extremely difficult times in terms of their health and well being and my time in Japan will hopefully provide me with the opportunity to give back to and provide some certainty for my family during this difficult time," Cummins said in a statement.
"The ARU and Rugby WA are aware of these circumstances and have been extremely supportive and considerate of the cards that I have been dealt. I am grateful for their understanding and flexibility in granting me this opportunity.
"It was a difficult decision to make in the context of a Rugby World Cup next year, but the health and well being of my family is paramount and the move to Japan is something I have to do for them. I now must put my own interests in the World Cup aside."
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver said Cummins will be missed.
“We have been working with Nick and his management team to explore ways to retain him within Australian Rugby since we were notified of his circumstances," said Pulver.
“Nick has been an incredibly entertaining and successful player on the field for the Western Force since 2008 and the Qantas Wallabies since 2012.
“The enthusiasm he brings to our sport and unique personality that he has shared with the Australian Rugby community will be sorely missed.
“Due to his unique and extreme personal circumstances, we have reluctantly made a decision to grant Nick an early release from his current contract based on compassionate grounds.
“We wish him well for the future on and off the field and he is aware that we – and rugby fans across Australia who have embraced him as the ‘Honey Badger’ – would love to see him back in Australia in the future.”
CEO Rugby WA Mark Sinderberry said it’s hoped the conditions of Cummins’ release will allow him to play with the Force again next year.
“We’d certainly like to see Nick back in Force colours beyond this season,” he said.
“He’s a player who gives his all on the field. He has been a great representative for our club over the past seven years and as a result, is an extremely popular member both within the team and with our supporters.
Cummins started on the wing for the Wallabies in all three Tests against France last month and has scored six tries over his Test career.
His loss will not just be felt on the field but off it, where his Honey Badger persona has attracted a cult following in Australia and overseas.
The ARU and Force could not be reached on Friday morning, but it is understood the winger was locked in tense contract negotiations with the Force as late as Thursday.
Honey Badger vs Godzilla. — Paul Cully (@whiskeycully) July 4, 2014