Rugby union: Wales and Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny leaving Cardiff Blues for Toulon
Last Updated: 23/01/14 7:10pm
Leigh Halfpenny practising before a recent match against Toulon
Leigh Halfpenny will leave Cardiff Blues at the end of the season after signing a two-year contract with Toulon.
The Wales and Lions full-back is the latest top Welsh star to head to France, following in the footsteps of Luke Charteris, Jonathan Davies, Ian Evans, James Hook, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts.
Halfpenny's new deal with reigning European champions Toulon will also have the option of an additional year.
The 25-year-old made his debut for the Blues in 2008 and has scored almost 350 points in 48 international appearances for Wales, winning last season's Six Nations player of the tournament award before being named the Lions' player of the series in Australia.
Halfpenny said he could not resist the temptation of joining Toulon but underlined his desire to continue playing for Wales.
He said in a statement: "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 development as a rugby player and as a person.
"They are an outstanding club, very ambitious, full of world-class players and 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 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."
"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."
Cardiff Blues chief executive Richard Holland
Halfpenny was out of contract at the end of this season and Blues chief executive Richard Holland admitted they could not compete with the Top 14 giants as they attempted to retain the player.
"Retaining Leigh has been one of our highest priorities and we have done all we can in our power as a region and business to try and facilitate that.
"He is one of the most prized players in world rugby and has been the target of a major European club with significant resources that we simply cannot compete with.
"Leigh has been a fantastic servant to the Blues and I know how hard a decision this has been for him.
"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."
Director of rugby Phil Davies added: "Leigh is one of the most professional and dedicated players I have ever worked with and a proven match winner. His mental strength sets him apart from others.
"His development from the age grade system through to international honours is testament the career pathway we have here at Blues and I look forward to seeing the next generation now follow his lead to the top of the game."
Former England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who is already part of the star-studded Toulon squad, was quoted as telling the Daily Telegraph: "We would welcome Leigh here and any club would.
"It's about welcoming someone who could add to the team, inspire others and leave a mark.
"That is what the guy has done with other teams and that is the best thing I can say about anyone."