By Brendan Cole
Jonathan Sexton is to sign for Racing Metro after rejecting a new contract offer from the IRFU.
It is believed that he will take up a two-year contract with the French club.
The Leinster out-half is likely to move to the Paris club, who are reported to have offered over €750,000 to secure his services. The IRFU contract offer is understood to have been in the region of €450,000.
"He has added tremendous value to the Leinster environment both on and off the field" - Joe Schmidt
The 27-year-old is the first high-profile player to leave an Irish province since Tommy Bowe left Ulster for the Ospreys.
The move is a blow for Leinster, who last week crashed out of the Heineken Cup, and for the IRFU, which recently launched a new strategy aimed at ensuring the provinces retain the best Irish qualified talent.
It is a coup for Racing, who have captured one of the top talents in Europe as he enters his prime.
The club has invested heavily under billionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti. A new coaching ticket of Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers will take over next season. Sexton could miss out on playing in the Heineken Cup rugby next year as Racing are currently in ninth position in the Top 14, though they are still within striking distance of the top six.
Sexton is considered the front-runner to start at out-half for the Lions when they tour Australia this summer and has taken a firm grip on the starting out-half role for Ireland.
The move to Racing Metro will not necessarily affect his chances of playing for Ireland. But Ireland will have less access to Sexton and will only have access to his services during IRB stipulated windows, while the number of matches he appears in at club level will not be controlled centrally.
IRFU Statement on Jonathan Sexton Contract... tinyurl.com/bflk76r— leinsterrugby (@leinsterrugby) January 25, 2013
Leinster Coach Joe Schmidt said he was disappointed with the decision. "I’ve really enjoyed Johnny’s input over the last few years and he has added tremendous value to the Leinster environment both on and off the field.
"The offer he has received is exceptional, even by French standards, but I know that it was still a tough decision for him."
Philip Browne, IRFU Chief Executive said: “We are very disappointed, as we know the Irish rugby public will be, that Johnny Sexton will not be playing his rugby full time in Ireland from next season.
"Johnny is a major talent and his full-time presence in Ireland will be missed, particularly by Leinster. We wish Johnny continued success with his career and he will receive all the support he needs over the next number of weeks in what we know was a very difficult decision for him."