Rugby-Wallabies flyhalf Foley to leave Australia after World Cup

SYDNEY, July 12 (Reuters) - Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley is to leave the New South Wales Waratahs for an unspecified team outside Australia after the Rugby World Cup, the 2014 Super Rugby champions said on Friday.

The Waratahs did not say whether Foley had already signed a contract with a new club, but the Sydney Morning Herald reported he would be joining Kubota Spears in Japan's Top League.

Foley has played 119 times for the Sydney-based side since making his debut in 2011 after coming into professional rugby from the Australian sevens side.

"The Waratahs gave me my first opportunity at professional rugby and I've grown so much as a player and a person during my time here," Foley said in a team statement on Friday.

"Playing with some of the games greats and making friendships that will last a lifetime. I've loved every minute of my time here, but I've got a new challenge in front of me and I'm looking forward to that as well."

Foley told the Waratahs of his decision to shortly before the Wallabies left for South Africa for their opening Rugby Championship match in Johannesburg on July 20.

He would still be eligible to represent the Wallabies, despite being based overseas, having played 68 tests since his debut against Argentina in 2013.

NSW Rugby Union's General Manager of Rugby Tim Rapp said they were sorry to see Foley leave.

"Bernard has been an important part of the Waratahs for the best part of a decade," said Rapp.

"We're obviously disappointed to see him go but it's a competitive marketplace, particularly at the end of a World Cup cycle.

"Everyone at NSW Rugby wishes Bernard all the best at both the World Cup and in the next chapter in his career."

Foley kicked the winning penalty when the Waratahs won their only Super Rugby title in 2014 but this year, despite having a side laden with Wallabies, they struggled and finished with a 6-10 record.

They are about to embark on a rebuild after coach Daryl Gibson stepped down at the end of the season and said it was "time for a new voice".

Foley follows Australia and Melbourne Rebels halfback pairing Will Genia and Quade Cooper away from Australia after Kintetsu Liners said on Thursday the pair would join them ahead of next year's club season in Japan.

The Liners, who play in Japan's second-tier, said that Genia will link up with the club after the Rugby World Cup, but Cooper, who was not named in the Wallabies' Rugby Championship squad, could move to Japan as soon as September.

(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by xxxxxxx)