Wallabies prop Ainsley heads home to NZ

Melissa Woods
Wallabies and Rebels prop Jermaine Ainsley is heading back to NZ after the Super Rugby AU season

Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley is returning to his New Zealand rugby roots, leaving the Melbourne Rebels for the Highlanders next year in another blow for Australian rugby.

The son of former All Black and Highlanders prop Joe McDonnell, Ainsley went to school in Otago before moving to Perth and then Melbourne.

The move is a blow for the Wallabies as 24-year-old Ainsley, who has three Test caps, will no longer be available for Test selection once he's playing across the Tasman.

Wallabies and Reds winger Henry Speight announced this week he will leave to play with French club Biarritz, while veteran playmaker Kurtley Beale and fringe lock Luke Jones are also headed to France.

Star Test lock Izack Rodda as well as fellow Reds Harry Hockings and Isaac Lucas, quit their contracts after refusing a pay cut.

Young Wallabies Jack Maddocks and Tom Robertson, and four-Test Brumbies halfback Joe Powell, are all believed to be in talks to join the Los Angeles based Major League Rugby side LA Giltinis.

Ainsley is one of a number of Rebels who are looking to move off-shore to secure their financial future with so much uncertainty around Rugby Australia.

RA has frozen all contract negotiations for next year with its major revenue stream, a $57 million a year broadcast deal, ending this season.

Ainsley will see out the Super Rugby AU competition, which gets underway on July 3, before joining the Highlanders in 2021.

"Even though Jermaine is only 24 he already has a wealth of experience with over 50 Super Rugby games and also some exposure at Test level," Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said in a statement on Monday.

"The fact that he has a strong link with our region and club history makes it all the better."

Ainsley said he was excited to be heading home where he still has family.

"Can't wait to play Super Rugby in New Zealand, it's a dream come true," he said.