Leigh Halfpenny confirmed on Thursday he would join European champions Toulon next season as he became the latest Wales player to opt for a club career in France.
The British and Irish Lions fullback is to leave Cardiff Blues when his contract expires at the end of this season.
“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,” Halfpenny said in a Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) statement.
“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,” he added.
Halfpenny is to join a Toulon side already boasting such talents as England great Jonny Wilkinson and South Africa’s Bryan Habana.
Toulon said in a statement that Halfpenny would be joining on a two-year contract, with an option for a third, after Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported he would be paid an annual salary of ￡395,000 (US$657,500) a year.
The 25-year-old was the man of the tournament for Wales when they won the Six Nations last year and followed that up by being named man of the series in the Lions’ subsequent 2-1 Test triumph in Australia, when the combined side were coached by Wales boss Warren Gatland.
Halfpenny has won 48 caps and scored almost 350 points for his country. He made his Blues debut in 2008.
Halfpenny follows in the footsteps of Wales colleagues Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate, Mike Phillips and James Hook in playing in the French Top 14, with center Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne) and lock Ian Evans (Toulon) also due to cross the English Channel later this year.
Welsh rugby is in the middle of a bitter dispute between the four professional regions and the WRU regarding the future of the senior club game, the row taking place against a backdrop of uncertainty concerning next season’s European Cup.
Cardiff chief executive Richard Holland said that, in the circumstances, Halfpenny’s decision to join Toulon was no surprise.
“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,” Holland 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,” he added.