Monday 16 October 2017

Leigh Halfpenny nearing Toulon switch

Leigh Halfpenny, Cardiff Blues, kicks a penalty tonight at the RDS
Leigh Halfpenny, Cardiff Blues, kicks a penalty tonight at the RDS

Graham Clutton

Leigh Halfpenny is understood to be heading for France on Saturday to discuss a possible move to Toulon.

Leigh Halfpenny is understood to be heading for France on Saturday to discuss a possible move to Toulon.

The Wales Grand Slam winner and British and Irish Lions kicking hero from the summer series win over Australia has been the subject of strong interest from the Heineken Cup champions since the end of last season.

Now, it is believed that Halfpenny and his representatives will meet officials from RCT, after their game with Oyonnax on Saturday, with a view to joining the cash-rich French club next summer, on a three-year-contract.

The news will come as no surprise to Halfpenny’s region, Cardiff Blues, for whom he was due to make his second start of the season on Friday night, against Leinster in Dublin.

However, it will certainly send alarm bells ringing around the rest of Welsh rugby. With the likes of Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate having joined the recent exodus of Welsh players to England and France, the loss of arguably Welsh rugby’s most marketable figure would come as a further blow.

Such has been the concern over the constant drain of talent from the regional game that Welsh rugby’s leading figures are in talks over how to generate enough cash to keep hold of their leading players.

The Professional Regional Game Board, which consists of the Welsh Rugby Union and Regional Rugby Wales chiefs, have further meetings planned to discuss the future of all the Welsh stars whose contracts are up at the end of the season.

Halfpenny falls into that bracket as does the Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton – another target for the leading French clubs.

The WRU has made available a further £1 million to help keep the leading players, such as Halfpenny, Warburton and Adam Jones, in Wales, but the governing body and the regions need to establish how that money will be used.

Halfpenny, who is favourite to be named world player of the year after scooping the accolades as the player of the 2013 Six Nations and Lions series, is one of the most sought-after players in world rugby.

Any move to Toulon would of course cast a doubt over the future of Jonny Wilkinson. Although the two play in different positions, Halfpenny’s worth as a kicker could make the England outside-half surplus to requirements.

Meanwhile, Newport Gwent Dragons go in search of a rare away win on Saturday when they take on Munster at Musgrave Park, Cork.

Two wins from their opening three games have left the perennial strugglers in decent shape with coach Lyn Jones making five changes from the team who defeated Scarlets last weekend.

Italian outside-half Kris Burton steps into the No 10 jersey with Jason Tovey moving to the bench and young scrum-half Jonathan Evans taking over from Richie Rees.

Evans said: “I saw all the reports about Richie and how well he played. It is a little bit of pressure on myself and to follow up a performance as good as that is going to be really hard. Lyn has given me the chance to prove myself so I am going to try and take it.”

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