Sale Sharks have signed England fly-half George Ford from Leicester on a “long-term” deal starting next season.
Ford, 28, re-joined Leicester in 2017 from Bath and has helped the Tigers to eight wins from eight this campaign.
Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson called the signing of Ford, who has won 77 England caps, “a massive boost”.
“George Ford is world class – one of the very best fly-halves in the game over the past five years,” Sanderson told the club website.
“This season he’s probably playing the best rugby of his career so we’re getting him at the right time.
“I met him twice and we had the chance to show him around the ground and the fact that he’s taken this decision, in the form that he’s in, with Leicester doing so well, tells me that he believes in the ambition of this club, and in the culture that we’re building.
“He’s a northerner and his heart is very much in this area. He’s been away for some years now but he’s coming back to his spiritual home. His family is hugely important to him and I know that his life outside rugby has played a part in this move.”
Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick said Ford told the Premiership leaders he was leaving earlier in the week.
“I have had the pleasure of working with him for a number of years, with England and now here at Tigers, and I am grateful to have had that privilege,” Borthwick said.
“We are fortunate to have the best following in rugby, who have been able to enjoy watching George represent their club for many years and I am sure they will echo me in thanking him for his contribution to Tigers.”
Ford said it had been “the most difficult decision of my career”.
“I am proud and grateful to represent this great club at Leicester and I will give my all for the rest of my time at Tigers,” he added.
Despite his excellent club form, Ford was left out of Eddie Jones’ England squad for the autumn internationals.
However, he has spurned the advances of clubs in France to stay in the Premiership and continue to fight for an England recall.
Ford is now set to be reunited with former Tigers team-mate Manu Tuilagi at the Sharks, while England star Tom Curry and highly rated rookie scrum-half Raffi Quirke are also part of Sanderson’s Sale squad.
After making his England debut in 2014, Ford has established himself as one of the pre-eminent fly-halves in the world game, guiding England to a Grand Slam in 2016 and the Rugby World Cup final in 2019.
Family ties behind Ford’s decision? – analysis
Adam Whitty, BBC Radio Leicester’s Tigers presenter
This will be tough news to take for Tigers fans, with Ford a major player and star name. His imperious play has guided Leicester to eight wins from eight in the Premiership.
Having been dropped from the England team, fans may have hoped they’d see much more from him in future years.
It’s understood Leicester and Sale both competed to sign the fly-half this week, with Tigers putting an improved wage offer on the table, and larger than Sale’s, to keep him at Welford Road.
Ford, though, has decided to leave the club he started his career with, and returned to with much fanfare four years ago. His family ties to the Manchester area, recent wage cuts caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the departure of his father from the coaching staff appear to have given him reasons enough for him to leave.