Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Boudjellal comments shock Howley

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has admitted he was "flabbergasted" to read comments made by controversial Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal about Leigh Halfpenny.

Boudjellal claimed in a French newspaper on Tuesday that terminating Wales and British and Irish Lions full-back Halfpenny's existing two-year contract cannot be discounted due to ongoing injury problems.

Halfpenny moved to Toulon from Cardiff Blues in the summer on a deal reputedly worth more than £1million. It was formally announced in January.

He suffered a dislocated shoulder during Wales' RBS 6 Nations defeat against England at Twickenham in March and underwent surgery ahead of an anticipated four month lay-off.

But the 25-year-old, who was Lions player of the series against Australia last year, is now struggling with a groin injury. He has yet to play for Toulon, and Boudjellal is rapidly losing patience.

Halfpenny's agent Tim Lopez, meanwhile, is understood to have travelled to Toulon following Boudjellal's reported remarks.

And Howley revealed that he had spoken with Halfpenny on Monday - 24 hours before Boudjellal cast a cloud over the player's Toulon future.

" I spoke to Leigh, and he was frustrated in not being able to participate in the game," Howley said, speaking at the launch of a new Welsh Rugby Union concussion campaign.

"When you go to a new club, first and foremost you want to play. But he said he is looking to be running in straight lines and has two weeks to go before he returns.

"That was on Monday, and then on Tuesday I was flabbergasted to see what I read.

"I could not understand, in a team environment, when you're trying to create a culture with trust and honesty, to hear comments like that from a club president.

"When you sign players you should know what they're about, and Leigh is meticulous and his attention to detail is immense.

"It's not nice to hear when a president comes out and questions whether you did an injury before arriving at a club, which was not the case.

" The injury which Leigh had initially was a shoulder problem sustained against England last March in the Six Nations. The recent groin problem has occurred as he tries to rehab and play again.

"I know Toulon have been going through a tough time in the last three or four weeks.

"When you are a president and you've invested a lot into a club and you're going through a difficult time in terms of results. you are going to be frustrated. But I am sure Leigh will be disappointed by the comments."

Blues chief executive Richard Holland has already confirmed the region's interest in Halfpenny should he become available.

Were Halfpenny to depart Toulon, it would raise the possibility of him returning to Wales on a dual contract partly-funded by the Welsh Rugby Union, although he is also likely to attract a worldwide scramble for his services.

A £3.3million pot has been set aside to pay players on dual contracts - 60 per cent WRU-funded, and 40 per cent by the four professional regions.

It is understood that the initial raft of players could run into double figures and is set to include established names like Sam Warburton, Alun-Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Taulupe Faletau.


From Belfast Telegraph