Halfpenny committed to Wales

Blackpool Citizen: Leigh Halfpenny is set to leave Cardiff to join Toulon Leigh Halfpenny is set to leave Cardiff to join Toulon

Leigh Halfpenny has underlined his desire to continue playing for Wales after agreeing a lucrative contract with reigning European champions Toulon.

The Wales full-back's two-year deal, plus a third season option, will see him join fellow superstars like Jonny Wilkinson and Bryan Habana at Stade Felix Mayol.

He will leave Cardiff Blues in June, following Wales colleagues like Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and James Hook to France's Top 14, while his fellow internationals Ian Evans (Toulon) and Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne) are also departing the Welsh domestic game later this year.

Halfpenny's impending exit, though, has been accompanied by powerful remarks from Blues chief executive Richard Holland that vividly reflect ongoing political unrest between the four professional Welsh regions - Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons - and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Critical areas such as revenue and competition structure remain unresolved against a backdrop of uncertainty surrounding next season's Heineken Cup.

A number of other top Wales players, including Halfpenny's Blues team-mate and Wales captain Sam Warburton, are also out of contract at the end of this season.

No announcement has yet been made regarding Warburton's future, while Ospreys and Wales forwards Alun-Wyn Jones and Adam Jones have regularly been linked with possible big-money moves abroad.

Holland hailed 25-year-old Halfpenny as "one of the most prized players in world rugby", but he also made an impassioned plea for the game's future in Wales to be "sorted out now".

Some reports have claimed that Halfpenny, last season's RBS 6 Nations player of the tournament and British and Irish Lions man of the series against Australia, will earn close to £400,000 a year in Toulon.

"Having taken time to consider every option in detail, I believe the decision to move to Toulon is the best decision for me and my continued development as a rugby player and as a person," Halfpenny said.

"I am very excited about joining Toulon. They are an outstanding club, very ambitious, full of world-class players and are the current European champions, so I am very proud to have been given the opportunity to be part of that.

"Having said that, I will be incredibly sad to say goodbye to everyone at the Cardiff Blues, the fans, the squad and the staff.

"I'm incredibly thankful to the WRU (Welsh Rugby Union) for their support. Toulon are fully supportive of my international desires and duties, and I would like to thank them for this as it was an important factor in my decision."

Halfpenny has won 48 caps and scored almost 350 points for Wales. His exploits last year were further recognised by him finishing as runner-up to Andy Murray in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, and being named Welsh Sports Personality of the Year.

And Holland added: "Retaining Leigh has been one of our highest priorities. 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.

"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. The future of the game in Wales must be sorted out now - this situation simply cannot be allowed to continue."

Addressing the current situation, WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis said: "It is no secret that we are working closely with our regions to put in place a new Rugby Services Agreement within which we hope to secure a method of retaining our top players in Wales.

"The WRU is anxious to progress that plan as quickly as possible.

"There is no doubt that playing in Wales under the gaze of our national coaches is the best place for any Welsh player to be, but in this day and age we are all aware of the financial pressures on individuals to move.

"The player development structure we have in place through our academies, age grade teams and sevens into the regions and senior squad based at the WRU National Centre of Excellence, is truly beyond compare.

"Now is the time for us to all work together to ensure that our best players remain central to the pyramid of development within which they can achieve so much."

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