Last season, Leigh Halfpenny was the third highest-earner in France’s Top 14, behind Dan Carter and Matt Giteau. Today, with pre-season in full swing, and a matter of weeks before the new northern hemisphere seasons kick off, he is out of work, after another Welsh region ruled itself out of the running for his signature.
The dead-eye fullback’s last meaningful act for former club Toulon was to kick them level in the 70th minute of a tense Top 14 semi-final against La Rochelle at the end of May. A day later, he joined the Lions for the tour of New Zealand, leaving behind an unsigned one-year contract extension, reportedly worth €750,000.
That offer was withdrawn midway through the first week of the tour. Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal blamed the Welshman’s regular international absences for his decision.
This week, Scarlets became the latest Welsh club to turn down Halfpenny’s services. The club said their recruitment plans were complete, and they could not afford the player, even on a National Dual Contract (NDC) that would see the WRU pick up 60% of the wage bill.
Meanwhile, a proposed deal for him to join the WRU-owned Dragons fell through in March; and the chances of Halfpenny joining former club Cardiff Blues for a second spell seems remote as their wage bill has already soared past £5million for next season.
On his third Lions Tour, @LeighHalfpenny1 made 170 metres and kicked 31 points.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 14, 2017
So where does that leave the player? English Premiership sides Bath and Wasps are reportedly interested in his signature. But such a move comes with its own issues – whether ‘Gatland’s Law’ on senior players takes effect or not, which depends on whether a formal offer from a Welsh club is on the table – notably the Premiership’s strict rules on releasing non-English players for internationals.
He could choose to remain in France, though with many clubs unwilling to fork out as much as Toulon for his services, he would have to agree to a sizeable drop in salary.
But there is an additional issue that could be a dealbreaker for many clubs. Halfpenny is now on an eight-week rest period owed to all Lions tourists. That means he is unlikely to be ready to return to action until mid-October – just as newly returned Wales coach Warren Gatland starts calling up players for the November internationals.
Any club that does come in for the player is likely to have to wait until December at the earliest for the first signs of any return on their investment.
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