Leigh Halfpenny bound for Toulon
Cardiff Blues confirm Wales fullback will leave the region at the end of the season
Cardiff’s Leigh Halfpenny is is to leave and the end of the season. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire
Cardiff Blues have confirmed that Wales star Leigh Halfpenny will leave them at the end of this season. The Blues have not revealed 25-year-old Halfpenny’s destination, but it is expected to be reigning European champions Toulon.
Fullback Halfpenny has won 48 caps and scored almost 350 points for his country. He made his Blues debut in 2008. Halfpenny’s existing Blues contract expires at the end of this season and he is now poised to link up with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau and Bryan Habana at Stade Felix Mayol.
Halfpenny was last season’s Six Nations player of the tournament and British and Irish Lions man of the Test series in Australia. He also finished as runner-up to Andy Murray in the 2013 BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, and was named Welsh Sports Personality of the Year.
Halfpenny looks set to join the likes of his Wales colleagues Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate, Mike Phillips and James Hook in the French Top 14, while centre Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne) and lock Ian Evans (Toulon) will also head to France later this year.
Blues chief executive Richard Holland said: “Retaining Leigh has been one of our highest priorities, and we have done all we can in our power as a region and business to try and facilitate that. His outstanding performances for Blues, Wales and the Lions have made him one of the most prized players in world rugby.
“We put our very best offer on the table, but he has been the target of a major European club with significant resources that we simply cannot compete with at this current time. Leigh has been a fantastic servant to the Blues, and I know how hard a decision this has been for him.
“He has been presented with a tremendous opportunity to play overseas and feels this is the right move at this stage in his career. He will go with our very best wishes for success with his new club.
“Given the current uncertainty over the competitions the regions are playing in next season and revenues attached to that, it is understandable why players are looking elsewhere. The threat to Welsh rugby and our ability to keep top players in Wales is highlighted by the fact the French game is underpinned by broadcast revenues that dwarf anything we receive from our domestic league.
“We need to be able to compete and have meaningful competitions that will increase funding into Welsh rugby. It’s not surprising that Welsh players would choose the certainty of strong weekly French competitions over the uncertainty of the weekly club competition in Wales.
“The future of the game in Wales must be sorted out now — this situation simply cannot be allowed to continue.”
Holland’s comments reflect vividly the ongoing political unrest between the four professional Welsh regions - Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons - and Welsh Rugby Union.
Critical areas such as revenue and competition structure remain unresolved against a back-drop of uncertainty surrounding next season’s Heineken Cup.
Halfpenny’s exit from the Blues has been announced just nine days before Wales kick off their Six Nations campaign. Wales open the tournament against Italy in Cardiff on February 1st, with Halfpenny a pivotal part of coach Warren Gatland’s plans.