Rugby Union

Leigh Halfpenny makes Toulon debut in defeat to Toulouse

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Leigh Halfpenny finally made his debut for French Top 14 side Toulon at the weekend after being handed a starting place at full-back against Toulouse.

The Welsh international had been out of action since March, when he injured his shoulder in the 29-18 defeat against England in the Six Nations.

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The 25-year-old had announced that he would be joining the reigning Heineken Cup champions in January on a two-year contract, officially moving to the south of France in the summer.

However, his debut was delayed even further, after picking up a groin injury, following his shoulder surgery.

World-class replacement

Former Cardiff Blues star Halfpenny had been signed by Toulon to replace the retiring England legend Jonny Wilkinson, who hung up his boots in June.

The 25-year-old has been one of the best kickers in the game over the past few years, having collected various individual awards on the international stage.

He won the man of the tournament at the 2013 Six Nations Championship, whilst also winning the man of the series during the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia later that year.

Despite this, Toulon’s president, Mourad Boudjellal, threatened to cancel Halfpenny’s contract at the Stade Mayol outfit due to his long injury lay-off.

Boudjellal had told French newspaper Varmartin: “With have the impression that he was injured when he signed for Toulon.

“If that is the case, we haven’t excluded denouncing his contract.”

Raring to go

After talks in September eradicated any possibility of Halfpenny departing the French shores, he has now been nursed back to full fitness after much hard work in training to ensure he is ready and raring to go.

“I’ve done a lot of physical work with the medical staff to get it right [groin] right and we’ve got to the point where I’m ready to play,” the Welshman told BBC Sport.

Toulon have relied on French veteran fly-half Frederic Michalak to take on the kicking duties in Halfpenny’s absence, all the while former England international Delon Armitage has stepped in at full-back for the injured star.

The French side have not made the best defence of their Top 14 title, having already lost three times in their opening nine games.

However, they sit just three points behind table toppers Clermont Auvergne in second, and with Halfpenny in the side, it should not be long before the reigning champions get back to where they belong.

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