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I’d like to emulate Halfpenny with Champions Cup success at Toulon, says Rhys Webb

By Alex Bywater

FOR over a decade Rhys Webb’s journey to work involved a 25-minute commute down the M4 from Bridgend to the outskirts of Swansea, often in pouring rain. Now, the Toulon scrum-half rides a scooter through the sun-kissed streets of the French Riviera as the glistening sun reflects off the nearby Cote d’Azur.

It’s some change for the 29-year-old who is tanned and relaxed when we meet in a cafe just outside the village of Carqueiranne – the place Webb now calls home.

Webb admits he’s given up hope of representing Wales at next year’s World Cup after he became the only victim of the Welsh Rugby Union’s 60-cap policy, but he also won’t let that ruin his new life abroad. The arrival of his third son – Rèmi – means there’s plenty to be getting on with.

“The name Rèmi has gone down well with the Toulon fans,” Webb said ahead of today’s Champions Cup clash with Newcastle Falcons. “I’m loving it here and I’ve settled in really well.

“I had to find somewhere to sit when I arrived – at the Ospreys you had to have a certain amount of caps to sit in the main changing room – and I didn’t know if it was the same with Toulon or not. Luckily I was allowed straight in and I jumped into Bryan Habana’s old spot. He’d signed his locker and left it there for me. I thought to myself ‘No pressure then!’”

Webb is very much a glass-half-full character and off the field his life couldn’t be much better, despite his international career seemingly at an end.

He spends his afternoon and evenings after training swimming in the pool with his eldest sons Regan and Jessie and takes regular French lessons alongside partner Delyth.

Out of the goldfish bowl: Rhys Webb scores in the rain of Swansea during last season’s Champions Cup (photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Wales head coach Warren Gatland last month seemed to open the door for Webb to play at the World Cup, but the man himself is just focussing on getting Toulon back to their best.

The three-time European giants are going through a re-building phase. The depth of talent is still strong – Webb is joined at the Stade Mayol by Julian Savea, Liam Messam, JP Pietersen and Facundo Isa – but the results have not been there so far this season.

Toulon have won just two of their seven Top 14 games to sit third bottom. It’s not good enough for a club of such grandeur, but Webb insists good times are around the corner.

Silverware – especially the Champions Cup – remains the dream.  “Our results have been frustrating,” he adds. “We’ve got new coaches and new players and like any squad we have taken time to gel. But I don’t think we’re far away from everything clicking and us being a very, very special team. I’m sure of that.

“Everyone wants to get their hands on the Champions Cup because it’s one of the biggest trophies in club rugby. Toulon have won it three times and if I could win it, it would be a dream come true. Leigh Halfpenny did when he was here, I’d love to emulate that success.”

Webb is clearly happy in Toulon and before he departs, he admits France could well end up being home for good. That’s how quickly he and his family have adapted.

“The 60-cap ruling is in place. I won’t dwell on the situation because it is what it is. I don’t think it will be changing and at the moment it looks unlikely I’ll be at the World Cup,” Webb said.

“Everyone talks about the Welsh rugby goldfish bowl and that was all I had ever experienced from the age of 17. In France I’m only an hour and a half away, but I can see the goldfish bowl from afar and it feels so good to be out of it. As Wales players we love our country, our family is there, but there is also more to life and it’s great for me to experience something else.

“After my contract ends here maybe I’ll head back to Wales and the door will be open for me to play for them again. But I’ll be 31 then and if all goes well, why not stay here?”

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