3:56pm Thursday 23rd January 2014
CARDIFF Blues have called on the Welsh Rugby Union to sort out the uncertainty over what competitions they will be playing in after confirming the departure of star full-back Leigh Halfpenny, writes Chris Kirwan.
The 25-year-old Wales and Lions international has penned a three-year deal with European champions Toulon worth a reported £500,000 a season.
Halfpenny will join international teammates Dan Lydiate, Luke Charteris, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Jonathan Davies and Ian Evans in France's Top 14.
The Welsh regions have not signed a participation agreement with the WRU because of doubts over the future of the RaboDirect Pro12 and turmoil surrounding the Heineken Cup.
Regional Rugby Wales state that they have secured a funding boost of £12million over four years by backing the English clubs' Rugby Champions Cup.
And, after confirming Halfpenny's departure, Blues chief executive Richard Holland expressed his fears of being able to compete with the French and English, who have secured bumper television deals worth £59million and £38million a year respectively.
"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," he said.
"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. It's not surprising that Welsh players would choose the certainty of strong weekly French competitions over the uncertainty of the weekly club competition in Wales.
"The future of the game in Wales must be sorted out now – this situation simply cannot be allowed to continue."
Roger Lewis, group chief executive of the WRU, said: "Leigh Halfpenny is a great player and a passionate Welshman so we all wish him well for the future.
"He wants to remain a Wales squad player and I know he will work as hard as he can to remain a contender for international honours with Wales.
"It is no secret that we are working closely with our regions to put in place a new Rugby Services Agreement within which we hope to secure a method of retaining our top players in Wales and the WRU is anxious to progress that plan as quickly as possible.
"There is no doubt that playing in Wales under the gaze of our national coaches is the best place for any Welsh player to be but in this day and age we are all aware of the financial pressures on individuals to move.
"The player development structure we have in place through our academies, age grade teams and sevens into the regions and senior squad based at the WRU National Centre of Excellence is truly beyond compare.
"We want players to release their best options of being nurtured through their careers at the top is to be part of what we already do so well.
"Now is the time for us to all work together to ensure that our best players remain central to the pyramid of development within which they can achieve so much.”
Halfpenny is delighted that the move has been signed and sealed after prolonged speculation.
"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 continued development as a rugby player and as a person," said Halfpenny.
"I'm very excited about joining Toulon. They are an outstanding club, very ambitious, full of world class players and are the current European Champions so I'm very proud to have been given the opportunity to be part of that.
"Having said that I'll be incredibly sad to say goodbye to everyone at the Cardiff Blues, the fans, the squad and the staff.
"I've been very fortunate to have spent the last seven years there with great players and people and will always be a club that remains close to my heart. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time there, made some lifelong friends.
"I can't thank them enough for giving me the opportunity and for their continued support."
Halfpenny added: ""I'm incredibly thankful to the WRU for their support. At this moment in time though I feel the decision to move to France is the best career opportunity for me personally as a professional rugby player.
"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.
"As well as the rugby challenges, I'm looking forward to experiencing and embracing a new culture and learning a new language. However until then I'm completely focused on performing for the Cardiff Blues and Wales.”
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