Crusaders scrum-half Andy Ellis will not be playing in the ITM Cup for Canterbury this year after signing a contract with Kobelco Steelers in Japan.
The 26-Test veteran, who last played for the All Blacks in the 2011 World Cup Final, will return to represent the Crusaders in next year's Super Rugby tournament but his Japanese commitments will rule him out of several of the Christchurch-based franchise's matches at the start of the season.
Ellis hopes his move to the Steelers won't count against him for All Blacks selection next year.
"I love playing for Canterbury and the Crusaders and I would love the chance to represent New Zealand again if the opportunity ever came up," he told the Crusaders' official website.
"This is certainly not a sign of my playing days in New Zealand coming to an end, I am just fortunate to have the ability to play rugby in Japan, which is something I've always wanted to do, and then return home to continue with the Crusaders.
Ellis said he was particularly keen to play for the Kobelco Steelers having spent time in Kobe in the past when his parents lived and worked there for three years.
"My family and I just love the city and the Japanese culture so we are really excited about the adventure we have in front of us."
Crusaders boss Todd Blackadder said Ellis went to Japan with their blessing but the Crusaders are thrilled to be retaining the talent and experience that Ellis offers.
"Andy has been such a loyal servant to New Zealand rugby and he fully deserves this opportunity to go and gain some international experience," explained Blackadder.
"We are fully supportive of Andy's decision to play in Japan, but especially pleased that he's committed to returning to the Crusaders at the end of his season in Kobe.
"Andy has so much more to offer New Zealand rugby so it is fantastic that he continues to see his future here.
"He is a core member of the Crusaders team and we are grateful that we will continue to reap the benefits of his experience, energy and personality both on and off the field."
Head coach for the Canterbury ITM Cup team, Scott Robertson, said his side would miss Ellis' input this year but hoped he would be back in red and black again in the future.
"Andy is a really influential member of this team and just such a pleasure to have around, so obviously we are sorry not to have him this season," said robertson.
"However we can fully understand and appreciate Andy's decision to take this opportunity for a stint overseas and the door will always be open for a return to the Canterbury team."