Wales coach Rob Howley stunned by Leigh Halfpenny's Toulon slur

French side have threatened to axe Welshman because of injuries

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The row over Leigh Halfpenny’s precarious position with the European champions Toulon intensified today when the Wales coach Rob Howley admitted he was “flabbergasted” by a threat to terminate the player’s contract on the Cote d’Azur.

Howley’s broadside was fired at the French club’s owner, Mourad Boudjellal, who lit the blue touchpaper on Tuesday by suggesting that Halfpenny, signed from Cardiff Blues during the  summer but yet to play because of a groin condition, might have known about the problem before his arrival. “If this is the case, we haven’t excluded terminating the contract,” he said. “We are conducting an investigation.”

Howley, second in command to Warren Gatland in the Wales set-up, was far from amused at this turn of events, and added that the player would be disappointed at the way he had been treated.

“I spoke to Leigh and he said he would be returning to action in about two weeks,” he reported. “That was on Monday. On Tuesday, I was flabbergasted to see what I read. When you’re trying, in a team environment, to create a culture with trust and honesty… I cannot understand comments like that from a club president.

“When you sign players, you should know what they’re about. Leigh is meticulous: his attention to detail is immense. When a president questions whether you had an injury before arriving at a club – which was not the case with Leigh – it’s not nice to hear. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed by the comments.”

Asked whether Halfpenny should grasp the nettle by tearing up the contract himself, Howley responded: “That’s for Leigh to decide. I’m sure everything will come out over the next week.”

Wasps, exhilarated by their hard-fought victory over the Premiership champions Northampton last weekend, returned to earth with a heavy bump today when they discovered that their new outside-half signing, the Scotland international Ruaridh Jackson, would miss the rest of the season with a  serious knee injury. Jackson kicked important goals against the Saints before hobbling off the field. It has now been confirmed that he has a torn ligament and will be incapacitated for between six and nine months.

Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, confirmed that the top-flight salary cap will rise to £5.5m next season, and that clubs will be able to nominate a second “marquee” player whose wages will not be included in that figure.

“The number of England-qualified players has passed 70 per cent and we want to drive the numbers even higher,” McCafferty said. “By introducing the second ‘excluded’ player, clubs will also be able to attract the best talent from other competitions and add to our television and commercial revenues.”