Bath captain Luke Watson opts for South Africa switch
Watson has been capped 10 times by South Africa
Bath captain Luke Watson will leave the club at the end of the season and return to play rugby in South Africa.
The 27-year-old has signed a three-year deal with Eastern Province Kings, based in his home city Port Elizabeth.
The back-rower described the decision to leave the Rec as "incredibly tough" and announced the move on Twitter.
"It's always been my dream to see top-flight rugby established within the Eastern Cape and I am very excited to be able to be a part of this," he said.
Watson, a popular figure at the Premiership club, joined Bath in November 2009 and was appointed skipper at the start of the season.
Currently out with a foot injury sustained in the draw at Harlequins at the end of October, Watson has played 29 games for the club, scoring three tries.
Head coach Steve Meehan said: "Of course we are sad to see Luke leave. He has been a very inspirational member of the squad for us, both on and off the field, but we respect his decision."
Watson added: "I have loved my time at Bath. The supporters have been amazing and the club is incredibly special to me.
"However, the opportunity to return home to South Africa, and especially to my home city Port Elizabeth, is one that I have to grab with both hands."
Watson, the son of prominent anti-apartheid campaigner Daniel "Cheeky" Watson who is also president of the Kings, is a controversial figure in South African rugby having once stated that the Springbok jersey "made him want to vomit."
But Kings chief executive officer Anele Pamba told BBC Radio Bristol the furore over those comments was all in the past and that he would be warmly welcomed by all after the conclusion of negotiations that lasted three weeks.
"We're delighted," said Pamba. "It was one of our plans to bring the boys of the Eastern Cape home. He was one of our big fishes that we were really looking forward to catch and finally we've made the catch.
"It's big news. He's a popular man and is one of our top rugby players in South Africa. He's back home and everybody's excited."
Pamba also hopes the Kings and Bath can develop a working relationship off the back of the deal.
Watson, who has won 10 caps, made his debut for Eastern Province in the Currie Cup as an 18-year-old and played Super 14 rugby for the Sharks, Stormers and Western Province before moving to the northern hemisphere.
His new side came into existence as the Southern Kings in 2009 when they played the touring British and Irish Lions with former Northampton and Ulster coach Alan Solomons at the helm.
Despite missing out on the final spot in the Super 15 to new Australian franchise Melbourne Rebels, they have big ambitions.
"Our main drive is to build a team capable of winning the Currie Cup First Division in 2011 and one good enough to win the promotion play-off matches and after that be successful in the Currie Cup Premier Division and Super Rugby," said director of rugby Solomons, a former assistant coach with the Springboks who knows Watson from his time in charge of Western Province and the Stormers.
"Luke is very much part of that vision and it says everything about our ambition that we could inspire him to return to his province of birth when there is such a demand for his services in Europe."
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