Ulster director of rugby, David Humphreys, will have started his search for prop forwards long before Wednesday’s confirmation that John Afoa will leave the Province at the end of the season.
The 30-year-old New Zealand World Cup winning tighthead is, the News Letter understands, joining Aviva Premiership club, Gloucester on a lucrative deal.
It followed hot on the heels of the recent news that Irish international loosehead, Tom Court, was also moving to the mainland to join London Irish.
Afoa has not hidden the fact he was not altogether happy in Belfast.
That was understandable given his family had returned to New Zealand and his youngest child was born earlier this year in his home country.
It has always been expected Afoa would leave at the end of the season and Humphreys will have already been seeking replacements.
Afoa’s departure is also more so due to IRFU restrictions on players in certain positions and the need for Irish qualified players such as Declan Fiztpatrick and Ricky Lutton to develop further at tighthead - but that he would return home.
He had recently been linked to French club Castres.
When it was confirmed last night he was leaving, there was no surprise at the news, but shock that it was to an English Premiership club.
But like Court, who signed a three year deal with London Irish last month, Gloucester came up with an offer the All Black could not refuse.
Afoa joined Ulster from Auckland Blues, making his debut against Connacht in November 2011, just having won the World Cup with New Zealand. He has made 48 appearances for the Province to date.
Afoa said: “It is good to have my long term future sorted out, however I still have a lot of rugby to play with Ulster.
“I have six months remaining on my contract with the Province and I am focused on helping the guys win something this season.
“When I finish my career, I will reflect on my time at Ravenhill with a lot of pride.”
Humphreys said Afoa had made “a fantastic contribution to Ulster Rugby” in the two years he had been here.
“He has been excellent for us on the pitch but has also been great for us off it, working along with Allen Clarke to develop the next generation of props for Ulster and Ireland.
“I know that with his wife and children in New Zealand, it has been a challenge for John to balance the needs of rugby and family.
“He has handled that situation with the utmost professionalism. When he leaves in June, everyone at Ulster Rugby will wish John well.
“Until that time however, I know that he will be fully committed to the Province and I also know that he will now be even more determined to help Ulster be successful this season.”