Halfpenny On His Way To France?
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Jonny Sexton may be forced to hand over the kicking tee at Racing Metro in 2014 after the French club were linked with his Lions teammate Leigh Halfpenny.
Halfpenny, Player of the 2013 Six Nations and Lions Series, met representatives of his club Cardiff Blues and three Top 14 signs hoping to attract him to France with a sizeable wage offer. The Welsh fullback took the kicks for the Lions against Australia, leaving outhalf Sexton to concentrate on making the backline tick and pinning back the hosts.
The 24-year-old has been in fantastic form for club and country ever since Wales coach Warren Gatland shifted him to his preferred role of fullback in the 2011 World Cup. He inherited the kicking duties for his country when Rhys Priestland was off form in early 2012, and has done nothing but excel at the role for his country.
Halfpenny’s contract in Cardiff expires next summer so his agents set up meetings with interested clubs in London at the weekend. Racing are paying out about €660,000 a year to Sexton and €480,000 to Jamie Roberts. Halfpenny’s representatives no doubt argued that their man should be the league’s top earner.
Cardiff Blues chief executive Richard Holland told The Rugby Paper that he would be ‘putting our cards on the table’ and discussing what soirt of package Halfpenny’s agents are seeking for their player. He added:
We haven’t got three-quarters of a million to put on the table, or half a million. I will be honest with his representatives and tell them what we can afford. There has to be a realisation that we can only afford so much.
“All I can do is put forward something which is competitive and we are confident we can broker a deal to keep Leigh at the Blues. The WRU has made additional funds available.”
The story developed this evening when Racing released a statement that distanced themselves from the Welshman. “Racing Metro 92, through its president Jacky Lorenzetti, wishes to deny this information,” read the statement. “The club is not one of the proposed bidding agents.”
The denial by no means rules Racing out of the running for Halfpenny. In January of this year, Lorenzetti flatly denied that Sexton would be moving to the Parisian club. He declared, “The chances of Sexton coming to France are tiny and to Racing even more so.”
The transfer was confirmed by the IRFU one week later. Top 14 sides do not discuss future transfers until the end of their domestic season but rugby supporters were already aware of the Sexton, Roberts and Dan Lydiate moves well in advance.
The two other Top 14 clubs said to be in the running for Halfpenny’s signature are Clermont Auvergne and Heineken Cup champions Toulon. With Jonny Wilkinson retiring at the end of 2013/14, Toulon would be eager to secure Halfpenny’s services but the presence of so many Lions teammates at Racing may yet lead to a reunion.