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Priestland seals Bath move

Wales international fly-half Rhys Priestland says he is ready for "a new challenge" after his move to Aviva Premiership club Bath was confirmed on Tuesday.

Priestland, 27, will leave the Llanelli-based Scarlets at the end of this season.

Press Association Sport understands he has agreed a two-year contract with Bath.

He becomes Bath's second major signing for next term after Glasgow's Fiji international scrum-half Niko Matawalu.

The Premiership title contenders have also been strongly linked with South Africa Test number eight Duane Vermeulen, although reigning European champions Toulon are also understood to be tracking him.

Priestland, who has won 32 caps, said in a statement released by Bath: " My entire rugby career has been spent in Wales, and although I've enjoyed that time enormously, I need a new challenge.

"I've been really impressed watching Bath develop over the past couple of years into one of the most exciting teams in the country.

"It's a world-class organisation in every sense, including the players, coaching staff and facilities."

Bat h head coach Mike Ford added: "R hys is a fantastic player with an impressive pedigree - his record with Scarlets and Wales speaks for itself.

"He's got a wide range of talents that suit our game-plan, and he will make a great addition to our squad.

"He's still quite a young guy, but one with a lot of experience that will be really valuable, especially in the development of our younger players."

Priestland joined Scarlets in 2005, graduating to the first team via their academy system. He will contest the Bath number 10 shirt with England international George Ford.

Priestland was not among the current group of Wales internationals to be offered national dual contracts - deals funded by the Welsh Rugby Union and Wales' four professional regions from a £3.3million pot.

And whether or not Priestland's move to Bath will have any effect on his World Cup prospects later this year remains to be seen.

He shone for Wales during the 2011 tournament in New Zealand, and he is likely to be part of Wales head coach Warren Gatland's RBS 6 Nations plans this season.

In November, Gatland launched a vigorous defence of Priestland after he had been booed by a minority of supporters at the Millennium Stadium when he took the field as a replacement against opening autumn opponents Australia.

Priestland has also received abuse on social media. It is not known whether that influenced his move from Wales in any way.

Speaking in November, Gatland said: " He (Priestland) is a young man who at one stage contemplated giving the game away because it wasn't worth taking that sort of personal criticism.

"You feel for Rhys a little bit because he's been hammered on social media by certain sections."

Priestland told the Scarlets' official website: "I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here at the Scarlets. There have been some great highs and some heartfelt lows.

"I have been lucky to have been involved in some fantastic fixtures, and career highlights here at the Scarlets would have to include representing the region in the Heineken Cup over the years.

"The Scarlets has been my home for a number of years, and all that I've known as a club as a senior professional player.

"I will certainly miss the place and will be leaving some great friends behind, but there's a long way to go this season."

Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac admitted the region's disappointment at seeing Priestland leave west Wales.

" He has been a big part of the region for a long period of time and is a true professional both on and off the field," Pivac said.

"We appreciate that this is a great opportunity for Rhys to further develop and progress on a personal level.

"As a region we were keen to retain Rhys' services, but were unable to do so.

"Despite our desire and commitment to retain all of our international players within the region, there are times when it's not the right decision for the individual player at the time.

"Rhys has developed into a skilled fly-half who commands excellence at all times, and his leadership qualities, experience and maturity will be missed.

"This is an exciting new challenge for Rhys. He goes with our blessing and he will always be a Scarlet. He has been a great servant, and we wish him well with his future."

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