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Toulon open door to Halfpenny, close it on Warburton

The club president says the Lions skipper has priced himself out of a move.

Wales Leigh Halfpenny sings the national anthem before the Australia Test recently.
Wales Leigh Halfpenny sings the national anthem before the Australia Test recently.
Image: David Davies/PA Wire/Press Association Images

TOULON PRESIDENT Mourad Boudjellal says he is trying to sign Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny but has ruled out a move for his countryman Sam Warburton.

Speaking to the La Provence newspaper, which covers the south of France, in an interview published on Friday, Boudjellal said British and Irish Lions and Wales captain Warburton had priced himself out of a potential move.

But the star of the Lions June tour to Australia may yet be recruited.

“We couldn’t find an agreement on the salary expectations. The subject is closed,” said Boudjellal about Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton, 25. “On the other hand, on Leigh Halfpenny, I don’t have the same answer. He’s a player we’re looking at.”

Halfpenny, 24, who also plays for the Blues, was voted player of the series in the Lions successful tour to Australia, breaking the Lions test points record and the record for points in a single test.

He was also voted player of the tournament in the 2013 Six Nations and was shortlisted for the International Rugby Board’s player of the year award.

Should he join Toulon — fellow French Top 14 giants Clermont are also interested in recruiting him — he would join a growing exodus of Welsh players in France.

Mike Phillips, Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate all play at Racing-Metro while James Hook and Luke Charteris are at Perpignan. Lee Byrne is at Clermont, who have signed Jonathan Davies for next season, while Toulon will have Ian Evans on their books in the next campaign.

France is not the only destination attracting Welsh players with George North at Northampton, Paul James at Bath and Craig Mitchell at Exeter.

Ospreys and Wales hooker Richard Hibbard looks set to move to Gloucester next season while Scarlets fly-half Rhys Priestland and Blues lock Bradley Davies have reportedly agreed to join Wasps.

Other players not currently in favour with Wales but who previously represented their country such as Travis Knoyle (Gloucester), Martin Roberts and Gavin Henson (both Bath) also play in England.

Meanwhile, Boudjellal said he will be looking to sign two new fly-halves if England legend Jonny Wilkinson opts to retire at the end of the season.

“If his body says stop, Jonny will finish his career at the end of this season,” said the president.

“I think right now, he doesn’t know. In any case, he’s never told me: ‘I want to finish my career’. Everything depends on the next six months.

“Having to one day replace Jonny Wilkinson is the kind of thing that falls on you once in 100 years.

“We’ve made choices based on managing the game and reliability as a kicker because we will have to replace two players in one: a playmaker and a kicker with a 90 percent success rate like Jonny has.

“To find all that in one player is difficult, so we’ll have to find it in two.”

- © AFP, 2013

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