MELBOURNE: Melbourne Rebels prop Jermaine Ainsley has signed a two-year deal with the Otago Highlanders that will see him return home from Australia and become ineligible for selection in Dave Rennie's Wallabies squad.
Ainsley, who was born in New Zealand's Otago region but earned three test caps in 2018 under former Australia coach Michael Cheika, will see out his second season with the Rebels before joining the Highlanders in 2021.
"Even though Jermaine is only 24 he already has a wealth of experience with over 50 Super Rugby games and also some exposure at test level," Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said in a statement on Monday.
"The fact that he has a strong link with our region and club history makes it all the better."
Tighthead Ainsley's departure robs incoming Wallabies coach Rennie of a front row option with test experience following Sekope Kepu's international retirement after the World Cup in Japan.
Overseas-based players need at least 60 test caps to be eligible for a Wallabies jersey.
"I’m very excited to be coming home and be surrounded by family," Ainsley said.
"Can’t wait to play Super Rugby in New Zealand, it’s a dream come true."
Ainsley joins an exodus of players from Australian rugby as the domestic game struggles to secure its future following the suspension of Super Rugby in March.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Robert Birsel)