Halfpenny signs for Toulon

Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny celebrates his side's series triumph, Australia v British & Irish Lions, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, July 6, 2013 PA Photos

Cardiff Blues have confirmed Leigh Halfpenny has signed a deal to join Toulon next season, on a contract which will reportedly see him earn around £395,000 a year.

The move linking Halfpenny to the European champions has been talked about for many weeks and will come as a surprise to few. The move is a massive blow to the WRU, who have been trying to find a solution to the growing number of Welsh stars crossing the channel to play in the Top 14.

Halfpenny will link up with fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who is expected to extend his career in Toulon by a year, though it remains unclear whether the former England fly-half will relinquish kicking duties. Former Wallaby Matt Giteau is also at Toulon and shares kicking responsibilities with Wilkinson, and the arrival of Halfpenny will give them an almost embarrassing array of world-class options at the tee.

Cardiff confirmed the departure of Halfpenny on Thursday, and insist they did everything they could to keep the Wales star at the club - though it seems the lack of clarity over the regions' participation in the RaboDirect PRO12 next season and the financial clout of Toulon were too much to contend with.

"Retaining Leigh has been one of our highest priorities and we have done all we can in our power as a region and business to try and facilitate that," said Richard Holland, the club's chief executive.

"His outstanding performances for Blues, Wales and the Lions have made him one of the most prized players in world rugby. We put our very best offer on the table but he has been the target of a major European club with significant resources that we simply cannot compete with at this current time.

"Leigh has been a fantastic servant to the Blues and I know how hard a decision this has been for him. He has been presented with a tremendous opportunity to play overseas and feels this is the right move at this stage in his career. He will go with our very best wishes for success with his new club."

Director of rugby Phil Davies admits Halfpenny will always be welcome back at Cardiff in the future.

"Leigh is one of the most professional and dedicated players I have ever worked with and a proven match winner. His mental strength sets him apart from others." said Davies.

"His development from the age grade system through to international honours is testament the career pathway we have here at Blues and I look forward to seeing the next generation now follow his lead to the top of the game.

"We wish him all the very best for his career overseas from the end of this season. I know he will be determined to finish strongly with Blues and the door will also be open to his return."

The futures of fellow Wales stars Sam Warburton, Alun-Wyn Jones, Adam Jones and Rhys Priestland - who are all out of contract this summer - are still yet to be confirmed.