Jannes Kirsten is the latest Exeter Chiefs player to announce he is leaving the club at the end of the season.
The back-five forward joins Sam Simmonds, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Dave Ewers in confirming his departure this summer, while speculation remains over Harry Williams, Joe Simmonds and Jack Nowell.
The 29-year-old Kirsten is returning home to South Africa and has signed a three-year deal with his former club Vodacom Bulls, who Chiefs have played twice in the Heineken Champions Cup this season.
Kirsten joined the Chiefs in July 2019 and has played a significant part in the recent success of the club, including helping them to a historic Premiership and European double in 2020.
He has made 75 first-team appearances for the club, scoring six tries.
Kirsten said: “The past four years have been an unbelievable experience, not just in terms of my rugby, but my own personal life. Coming to Exeter was obviously a new challenge for me, but it’s one that has brought me so much.
“The club, the city, the people, they have all been amazing and I will leave at the end of the season with only happy memories. What I have been able to achieve is something I am very proud of and the friends I have made will be life-long.
“South Africa, however, is home for me and the time is right for me to go back there and continue the next chapter of my rugby career. Heading over to Pretoria just a few weeks’ ago with the Chiefs was very special, particularly as I never thought I would run out at Loftus as a visiting player
.“Also, getting the opportunity to show my homeland to my team-mates and the staff that travelled was something I will remember. The Chiefs will always hold a big place in my heart and between now and the end of the season I will be doing everything possible to ensure my time here finishes on a high note.”
Although sad to see Kirsten depart, Chiefs' director of rugby Rob Baxter highlighted Kirsten's contribution, saying: “From day one and then when he was signing new deals, Jannes said he needed to have the option of going home because he didn’t know when the family would want him to get back from his European adventure
“All I can say about Jannes is he has been a fantastic player for us; a fantastic bloke about the place and I will really miss him. He has been a real character and he came at a time when the club were achieving big things. He’s has played a big part in all of that and all I can do is thank him for that and hope he can have a successful end to his time at Exeter Chiefs.
“Although he initially came here on a short-term deal, it almost feels now like he’s been part and parcel of the furniture for a long, long time. He has been a great guy to coach, a great guy to manage, and I know he’s been very interactive with the other coaches, staff and supporters of the club.
“I can’t do any more than wish him the best for the future and with the Bulls and, who knows, we could end coming up against him again in the future.”