Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb will leave the Ospreys at the end of the current season, it has been confirmed.
Webb, 28, whose deal with the Ospreys and Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) runs out at the end of the season, is expected to sign a three-year deal with Toulon.
After weeks of speculation in France that the Lions No.9 would be joining the former European champions, the Ospreys have admitted he will be joining half-back partner Dan Biggar in leaving the region at the end of the season.
In a statement released jointly by the region and WRU on Thursday, it was confirmed that the Wales international would head to France, although his exact destination remained undisclosed.
“The Welsh Rugby Union and the Ospreys can confirm that Rhys Webb has informed them of his intention to leave Welsh Rugby next season,” the statement read.
“Webb, who is on a National Dual Contract, will join an undisclosed French club for the 2018-19 season.
“In line with our intention to keep our best players in Wales, every effort to retain the player has been made. Whilst the news is disappointing there is an understanding that on occasion market forces will make this impractical.
“All parties would like to thank Rhys for his contribution to the game here in Wales and continue to wish him well for the future.”
News of the move, which comes just a month after half-back partner Biggar confirmed his own switch to Northampton, is a blow for both club and country.
It might also put Webb’s international future in doubt.
Under current WRU rules Wales head coach Warren Gatland is permitted to pick only four overseas-based players caught by the law. That number is due to be reduced to two from the 2019-20 season.
Gatland already has to choose between Taulupe Faletau, Luke Charteris, Rhys Priestland [all Bath], Jamie Roberts [Harlequins], George North [Northampton] and Liam Williams [Saracens]. Adding Biggar and Webb to that list will cause a serious selection headache.
Webb said: “It’s a huge wrench to be leaving the Ospreys after spending all of my playing career with the team. I have made lifelong friends on and off the pitch and I cannot speak highly enough of the quality of the coaching team, players and all of the staff involved within the Ospreys organisation.
“I will continue to give the region everything I can to make sure we have the best season possible and I would like to conclude by saying a heartfelt thanks to everyone within the Region for helping me achieve my goals within rugby
“I would like to thank the WRU and the Ospreys for their efforts during this process.”
Webb won two Test caps during the British & Irish Lions’ summer tour of New Zealand, and has played 28 times for Wales since making his debut against Italy in 2012.