British and Irish Lions man-of-the-series Leigh Halfpenny is set to travel to Toulon after tonight’s clash against RaboDirect Pro12 champions Leinster, using the visit as a chance to check out the French club’s facilities.
French newspaper Midi Olympique is reporting that Halfpenny, who is in his final year with the Cardiff blues, will travel to the south of France for contract talks over a big-money move in the summer.
Halfpenny starred in the recent Lions series victory over Australia, capping a meteoric rise to the top of the sport which has seen him become one of the most talented players in the world, along with an unflappable goal-kicking record.
Current Wales captain Sam Warburton is another whose contract expires in the summer, and having already said he will consider all of his options when it comes to deciding where his future lies.
Toulon coach Bernard Laporte is a fan of the Lions captain, and the news that the money-rich Top 14 side could swoop for the two biggest names in Welsh rugby has alerted the Welsh Rugby Football Union.
They have put aside a reported £1m in order to secure the futures of their current international stars which includes Halfpenny and Warburton, as well as Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans.
Laporte is keen to tie-up deals for the pair before they meet Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup on October 19, with the return match coming early in the New Year. While Halfpenny will be flying out to France after the match, Warburton will be looking to just come through it in one piece, as he is set to make his comeback since tearing his hamstring in the second Test against Australia in the match at the RDS later tonight.
Both Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro are also in the hunt for Warburton, who is hoping that a strong showing in the next few weeks will see him awarded the Wales captaincy for their upcoming autumn internationals.
Speaking to The Independent earlier in the year, Warburton admitted that although there was a rough estimate on the injury time and he did not know when he would return, he would love to be back in time for the Heineken Cup clash with Toulon next month. Warburton is set to run out tonight against Brian O’Driscoll’s Leinster side, although another Lion in the form of Jamie Heaslip will captain the home side.
The state of regional rugby among the Six Nations champions had been on the decline with a number of stars heading to France in search of lucrative playing contracts and a different style of life, with many choosing the Mediterranean coast of France as the ideal location. Current internationals Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips and Dan Lydiate currently ply their trade across the channel just to name a few, while George North moved across the border to join Northampton Saints for a reported £200,000 transfer
However, Welsh rugby appeared on the comeback, with Alex Cuthbert’s decision to extend his stay in the country added to by the return of prop Gethin Jenkins from Toulon, with the loose-head captaining the national side to the famous victory over England at the Millennium Stadium earlier this year to retain their Six Nations crown and deny their fiercest rivals the Grand Slam.