Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny could have his contract with Toulon terminated after the European champions’ owner suggested the player might have been injured when he arrived in the summer.
Toulon shelled out a seven-figure fortune to coax Halfpenny away from Cardiff Blues to fill the hole left by Jonny Wilkinson following the World Cup winner’s retirement at the end of last season. Since when, Halfpenny has revealed himself as a carbon copy of Wilkinson – not as a marksman of genius, sadly, but as an orthopaedic calamity in human form.
The Welshman has yet to take the field for his new employers, who appear to be running out of patience. “We are awaiting the medical update,” said Mourad Boudjellal, the Toulon owner, referring to Halfpenny’s groin injury – a second setback, following the dislocated shoulder he suffered during last season’s Six Nations Championship. But then Boudjellal went further.
“We must address this issue because we do need a world-class goal-kicker,” he remarked. “The problem we now have is that we think Halfpenny may have arrived at Toulon with this injury. We have the impression that, yes, he was injured when he signed. If this is the case, we haven’t excluded terminating his contract.”
Boudjellal is hardly a complete stranger to controversial outbursts but Cardiff Blues, disappointed to lose Halfpenny in the first place, were happy to take him at his word.
“We offered Leigh a contract prior to his departure to Toulon and, of course, we would be interested in him if he became available, be it on a dual contract [with the Welsh Rugby Union] or on a regional deal,” said Richard Holland, chief executive at the Arms Park. “We will be speaking to his representatives to find out the state of play regarding his situation and will take things from there.”
It is less than a month since the WRU and its four professional regions signed a new “rugby services agreement”, in which the introduction of dual contracts for leading international players was among the most eye-catching features. Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach, has acknowledged that those already under contract in France or England – such as Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and George North, as well as Halfpenny – are lost to the domestic game for the time being, he has indicated that anyone signing “foreign” deals from now on might risk being overlooked in selection.
This puts Halfpenny in an interesting position. If Toulon wash their hands of him – still a long-odds bet, but apparently not impossible – he would be a target for other French clubs, along with a fistful of leading Premiership teams. Were he to reject a chance to return to Wales in favour of a big-money deal elsewhere, the ramifications could be significant.Reuse content