Australian Rugby
Digby Ioane joining Stade Francais
ESPN staff
May 3, 2013
Queensland Reds' Digby Ioane runs in attack, Reds v Bulls, Super Rugby, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, March 23, 2013
Digby Ioane is heading to France © Getty Images

Wallabies winger Digby Ioane will leave Queensland Reds and Australian rugby later this year after signing a massive two-year contract with French glamour club Stade Francais. Ioane is understood to have signed a deal worth almost $2.5 million, but the contract endangers his chances of playing for Australia at Rugby World Cup 2015.

Queensland Rugby Union chief executive Jim Carmichael on Thursday night confirmed French radio reports the world-class back would link with the Parisian club at the end of the year.

Ioane is regarded among the best wingers in the game and his loss is a major blow to both the Wallabies and the Reds. One of the country's highest-paid rugby players in Australia, earning a reported $800,00 per season, the 34-Test flyer had another year to run on his Reds contract but his Australian Rugby Union (ARU) deal expires at the end of 2013.

Carmichael stressed it was an amicable departure despite a stand-off between the Reds and Ioane's management last week over alleged third-party payments the player felt were owed to him. The pair met face-to-face this week, and Carmichael said there were no hard feelings about Ioane taking the chance to provide long-term financial security for his family.

"He goes with our absolute blessing," Carmichael told AAP. "I'm reassured about his feelings toward the Reds and his team-mates, and he'll always be a part of the Reds family. If he chooses to come back to Australian rugby after a couple of years, I hope he picks up the phone and we'll welcome him back with open arms."

Ioane's future had been subject of speculation after reports he had taken issue with Queensland Reds management. Reds' director of coaching Ewen McKenzie said "there's some journalists out there who like writing speculative pieces without much substance so I will give it that much credence", but the player himself subsequently confirmed he wanted to leave at the end of this season - a year before the end of his three-season deal.

The saga then took another twist when Queensland Rugby Union officials said they wanted to question Ioane and his management after suggestions the Wallabies winger had been shopped around in contravention of his contract. Greg Growden reported for ESPNscrum that "franchise officials have been concerned for some time … [and] that explains why the Reds weren't too impressed when Ioane began seeking additional payments".

The French season starts in September, but the ARU is unlikely to release him from his current contract until after the spring tour of Europe in late November.

Ioane is still regarded among the half-dozen certain selections in Robbie Deans' Wallabies starting XV to play the British & Irish Lions, but his deal with Stade Francais seems set to end his chances of playing at a second World Cup, kicking off in September 2015 in England, as ARU guidelines stipulate that players must be involved in Super Rugby to be eligible for Test selection.

The addition of the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-raised 27-year-old is a huge coup for Stade Francais - formerly coached by Australians Michael Cheika, Ewen McKenzie and John Connolly - as they are currently struggling in ninth on the Top 14 ladder.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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