Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny has confirmed that Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal will not stand in his way of joining the Lions when they depart for New Zealand on May 29.
The Top 14 final clashes with the first game of the Lions tour against the New Zealand Barbarians on June 3. Boudjellal has previously fought international-player release when it has overlapped with Toulon fixtures.
Four years ago, Toulon said none of their players would be released before the conclusion of their club commitments when Jonny Wilkinson and Steffon Armitage were being touted for Lions call-ups.
However, Halfpenny ensured that the Lions release was built into his last contract renewal and revealed that Boudjellal congratulated him in person.
“I spoke with Mourad and said I would want to go on the Lions tour, if selected,” Halfpenny said.
“He said to me: ‘We appreciate as a Welshman and a Brit, we know how big the Lions is for you and we are happy to let you go’. He congratulated me on the selection and wished me all the best.
“Had I not had that written in then I would have had to look at my options, really. Representing the Lions is the pinnacle of any rugby player’s career. That was a big part of my decision.”
Despite being named player of the series in Australia, Halfpenny admits he was “hugely” anxious whether he would be included for a third tour.
“I barely slept I was so nervous,” he said. Inevitably it has taken a period of adjustment for the 28-year-old to build up form after missing all of last season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.
“It takes time to mentally get over it and start to trust the knee again, particularly in the early stages of this season,” Halfpenny said.
“The surgeon told me it takes a year and a half to two years to actually feel normal again. Now I play and I don’t think about it but that has taken a long time to happen.”
Fellow Lions Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly have been nominated for the Rugby Players’ Association Player of the Year award alongside Daly’s Wasps team-mates Jimmy Gopperth and Christian Wade and Northampton No 8 Louis Picamoles.
Leigh Halfpenny is an ambassador for Land Rover, a principal partner of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. Follow @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal