“Have you heard the Pilou-Pilou?” says Leigh Halfpenny with a slight smile. “You should. It’s quite something.”
The Pilou-Pilou, a chant about ruthless, ancient warriors coming down from the mountains to the sea, has been likened to a French haka. It is sung and shouted long and hard before every game at the Stade Mayol, a great symbol of intent. Halfpenny, who signed for Toulon in May, has never heard it from the pitch
And that is why, for all his glorious ability as one of the best full-backs in world rugby, the pressure rages inside the boy from Gorseinon.
Like many self-made men, Toulon’s president, Mourad Boudjellal, believes his money should produce instant results. Toulon pay big – Jonny Wilkinson’s salary was £710,000 a year when he signed in 2009 – and Halfpenny gives another slight smile when asked what it is like to play for the Real Madrid of rugby.
When Halfpenny was unable to make his debut because of a groin injury, Boudjellal, who made his money from publishing fantasy and sci-fi comics, gave a fair impression of Flash Gordon’s nemesis, Ming the Merciless, and threatened to cancel his contract.
It led to a flurry of offers from Wales and some serious shuttle diplomacy from Halfpenny’s agent, Tim Lopez, who managed to smooth things over. Halfpenny, who was speaking in his role as a Lucozade ambassador, never has his thoughts too far away from Provence.
There are the autumn internationals, the Six Nations, the World Cup, all stretching out on various points of his horizon but, when asked about them, Halfpenny, who has just returned to training at the club, replies: “I cannot look beyond Toulon at the moment.
Mourad Boudjellal, the Toulon president, threatened to cancel Halfpenny’s deal Mourad Boudjellal, the Toulon president, threatened to cancel Halfpenny’s deal (Getty Images)
“It is a big situation, what with everything that has gone on and the only way to respond is to deliver for your team. The competition for places at Toulon is unlike anywhere else in the world and you know what the consequences of one bad game could be.”