England World Cup loose forward James Haskell is to play Super Rugby next season in a surprise move that sees him join the Highlanders.
Haskell is one of 28 new names included in the five New Zealand franchises announced on Wednesday, less than a week after the Highlanders said he was unlikely to join them.
Other World Cup stars heading to New Zealand for Super Rugby will see Samoan Tusi Pisi join the Hurricanes, while Tongan Sona Taumalolo and Samoans Kane Thompson and Mahonri Schwalger will line up with the Chiefs.
The 26-year-old Haskell had expressed an interest in playing Super Rugby, but Highlanders Chief Executive Roger Clark said as recently as last Friday that he was "not on the list of available players at the moment so we can't pick him".
But the New Zealand Rugby Union confirmed Wednesday that Haskell was one of five overseas players who appeared in the World Cup last month to take up places in New Zealand Super Rugby sides for next year.
However, the people of Dunedin will frown upon the move.
Haskell was one of three England players - along with teammates Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley - who were ordered to apologise to the Dunedin hotel worker after she complained of their rude behaviour towards her at the start of the World Cup.
According to reports, which were never refuted by the players, they lured her into their room and suggested she performs offense actions with sexual connotations. It was, according to reports, part of an online video series they were producing.
Haskell, who can play in all three loose forward positions, will link up with the Highlanders after completing a spell with the Ricoh Black Rams in Japan, and at the end of the Super season he will rejoin the London Wasps.
Being able to secure the services of the 42-Test veteran was a "sign of the times", Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said.
"It's my job to pick the best players available in the world now, not just Otago."
Haskell said his move to the Highlanders was an opportunity to test himself in the ultimate playing environment.
"I think it will help me in my desire to improve and become a better player for England," he said.
"The move to New Zealand and playing with and against some of the best players in the world in the country which holds the World Cup is another important step in that direction. That is the ultimate playing environment," he said.
Haskell was one of the few England players to enhance their reputation during the World Cup, although he was also publicly reprimanded by manager Martin Johnson over the incident in a Dunedin hotel during the tournament.
From the All Blacks squad which beat France 8-7 in the World Cup final last month, 27 players are returning for the Super season.
NZRU General Manager of professional rugby Neil Sorenson described the franchises as "the strongest and most exciting" seen off the back of a World Cup year.
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