Marcell Coetzee will leave Ulster Rugby for the Bulls at the end of the season after his transfer was confirmed by the province.
The South African international will return to his home country in the summer in a move that has been described as 'player driven'.
Ulster Rugby CEO Jonny Petrie took to Twitter to voice his opposition to the transfer and explained that it was a decision made by Coetzee himself.
"Deeply frustrated by this whole situation," said Petrie. "(It came) about very much against our wishes and we've had no option but to end up where we are. Nothing to do with IRFU or finances - entirely player (& Bulls) driven. Very disappointing, but we move on - doesn't alter our course one bit."
Having returned to South Africa during the first coronavirus lockdown, Coetzee expressed a strong desire to move home amidst the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic and resolved to find a route at the end of the season.
“It all started during lockdown when I was back home for four months," he explained. "My wife and I did a lot of thinking together about life and we also reflected on where I am in my career.
“We decided to come back to Belfast with an open mind, but ultimately we miss home, the South African culture and way of life – and after five seasons the longing for home has just caught up with us.
“I must say Ulster have been absolutely superb to me, on and off the field during my career, and I feel I have grown as a person and as a player for the experiences the club has given me. Ulster will always have a special place in the hearts of my wife and I.”
With a further year to run on his Ulster contract, terms were agreed for Coetzee's early release.
Now the unenviable task for the province is to replace the world class flanker.
“Marcell has been a great performer for us on and off the field and I’m sure he will continue to bring his high-performance standards through until June," said head coach Dan McFarland.
“We have a talented squad that is growing in experience. We are looking to supplement and support that talent, particularly in the forwards, in line with our ambition to consistently compete for championships.”
News of the move broke on Christmas night, when the Bulls tweeted a supposedly cryptic tweet of their soon-to-be-confirmed recruit, who they billed as the 'biggest festive gift' to supporters.
With the identity of the player obscured by a present graphic, it didn't take much detective work to reveal that the photograph was, in fact, of Coetzee in action for the Springboks against Argentina back in 2015.
After joining from Japanese side Honda Heat in 2016, Coetzee endured injury problems and played only five matches across his first two years at Ulster.
However, his performances in the 18/19 season earned him a new three-year deal and, as his fine form continue, he shot into contention to be part of the Springboks squad for the World Cup last year. Agonisingly, he missed out on helping his side lift the trophy only due to injury.
Ironically, once he goes, Ulster could be due for a quick reunion with the No.8 as the Bulls are expected to be one of the four South African teams added to the Guinness PRO14 for the 2021/22 season.
They are already set to be part of the new Rainbow Cup, which starts in April prior to the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, which is believed to be a precursor to the new format starting in September 2021.