The British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand officially kicks off in earnest in less than a months time and ahead of the squad’s long journey south, boss Warren Gatland has received some good news.
As Gatland’s sweats on the fitness of captain Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones and Conor Murray, he has boosted by the news that Top 14 giants Toulon have reportedly come to an agreement with star full-back Leigh Halfpenny which will see the Wales international travel with the Lions ahead of the first match on June 3rd.
According to the Mirror, Halfpenny will be released by Toulon ahead of a potential Top 14 title decider, which the French club hope to be challenging for on June 4th.
This is a marked shift in policy for the cash rich club as four years ago, when the Lions toured Australia, players were not released to travel until the club’s domestic involvement came to an end.
According to Halfpenny himself, the agreement was reached several months back when he agreed to remain on with the three-time Champions Cup winners.
“When I went through the process of whether to take up this extra year I spoke with Mourad and said that for me to stay on I would want to go on the Lions tour, if selected.
“Had I not had that written in I would have had to look at my options because representing the Lions is the pinnacle of any rugby player’s career.
“They agreed to put in a clause for the Lions release. Mourad said to me, ‘We know how big the Lions is for you as a Welshman and we are happy to let you go.’”
News of the 28-year-old’s availability will come as a boost for Gatland as he will need his entire squad fit and available for the grueling ten match tour.
First up for the Lions is a June 3rd contest with the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, with the first test against the All Blacks coming on June 24th.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
On the Oval Office rugby podcast this week, we hear from Gordon D’Arcy and Nick Evans, and talk PRO12, Premiership and Lions midfield.
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