Amiable South African Steph Nel has stepped down as coach of AIB League Division One club Ballymena. He is set to take up a new post with Super 14 side Western Province.
Nel guided the Braidmen to a tenth place finish in the All-Ireland League and a share of the First Trust Ulster Senior League title (with Dungannon) in his final season in charge.
Nel, who took over at Eaton Park from Australian Tony D'Arcy in 2004, is to return home to work as a development coach with Western Province. A former coach with Connacht and Rotherham, he has penned a four-year contract with the Newlands-based outfit.
Ballymena PRO Sam McGreer said: "It's a very prestigious post offering him long-term security and it's a measure of the man that he offered to honour his commitments with Ballymena, but the club wouldn't stand in his way after being offered such an opportunity.
"It's a testimony to the much maligned All-Ireland League that they have actually come to Ireland to offer a club coach such a prestigious position.
"Steph has been very good for the Ballymena club and we're sorry to lose him, but we couldn't stand in the way of him developing his career. He thought long and hard before making his mind up," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Nel's work with developing the club's youth policy and bringing young players through into the senior side will be seen as his lasting legacy at Eaton Park. A number of leading coaches are reportedly interested in the vacancy at Ballymena.