Blues hoping to agree new Halfpenny deal
July 12, 2013
Wales international Leigh Halfpenny recently steered the Lions to a series victory over Australia © PA Photos
Cardiff Blues are hoping to convince British & Irish Lions hero Leigh Halfpenny to shun lucrative offers from overseas and sign a new deal with the Welsh region.
Halfpenny is one of the hottest properties in the game having steered the Lions' to an historic series victory over Australia and he was rewarded for his endeavour with the Player of the Series honour. The Wales fullback is also favourite to lay claim to the International Rugby Board Player of the Year awards having also been voted the best player in this year's Six Nations.
The 24-year-old is contracted to the PRO12 side until the end of the forthcoming season but has already attracted interest from overseas with a host of big-spending French clubs reportedly chasing his signature. But Blues chief executive Richard Holland is determined to keep hold of his prized assets - with Lions captain and Blues flanker Sam Warburton also out of contract next year - and has already begun fresh contract talks with both players.
"Whether or not Leigh will stay I don't know but he's a Welsh lad and we're hoping he will commit to the Blues," Holland told The Independent. "We have already had discussions and we will be working hard with Leigh to lock him into the Blues for the foreseeable future.
"We are extremely proud of the achievements of all our Lions. Leigh must be the only candidate for the IRB's World Player of the Year after destroying Australia. Now we are going to do everything in our power to secure his services. We're trying to put together, within our means, a package which will enable Leigh to stay at the Arms Park and in Welsh rugby."
The Welsh Rugby Union have seen many of their leading players lured overseas with the Lions duo of Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate just the latest to make the switch having agreed lucrative moves to join French side Racing Metro.
Union officials have pledged extra funding to help the Welsh regions secure the long-term future of their top names but it remains to be seen if it is enough to keep the likes of Halfpenny and Warburton in the country.
"The Union have obviously announced that they are making additional funds available," Holland told the Western Mail. "It remains to be seen how that money is going to be chopped up, but here's a prime example of where it could be spent. The first thing I'm going to be doing is saying I've got two current Wales players I really need to have a look at. I'm wanting to see what is available in terms of that £1m."
On his chances of convincing Halfpenny to re-sign, he said: "Ultimately it will be his and his agent's decision. I think Leigh would like to stay at the Blues. He enjoys the environment here and the success he's had away from the Blues is because we give him the opportunity to spend his time with Wales.
"These players who go to France don't have the freedom of spending that amount of time with the national side. It will be a personal decision for him. All we can do is put a commercial deal together that is as competitive as it can be and then the decision will be his. Leigh is a Welsh lad who I'd like to think wants to continue playing his rugby in Wales."
Holland told The Guardian: "I am meeting Leigh's agent again next week - and we know he will receive big offers elsewhere. We only have certain resources and as soon as it goes above a certain level, it will be down to Leigh. There is no way we could compete with £750,000 a year.
"The regions need to meet with the WRU as soon as possible to see how the £1m will be invested, although I am certain it will not simply be split four ways. We have a better opportunity of retaining Leigh and Sam working in collaboration with the Union and players who are based in Wales have more freedom than those in France and England, but it is a one-off sum and would have to be spread across the duration of a contract."
Speaking on the Lions' arrival home from Australia, Warburton commented: "I know the WRU and the regions are working very hard to keep players in Wales so hopefully that's the case with Leigh as he's a top-class player. Leigh Halfpenny's been playing world-class rugby now for two or three years in my opinion.
"It doesn't surprise me that he's having the success he's having now: he's the best professional I know. Time will tell, but his contract's got another year with the Blues and I look forward to playing with him for another 12 months."
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Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September