GETHIN JENKINS is leaving Welsh rugby to join French club Toulon, WalesOnline can reveal.
The Lions prop has signed a two-year deal with the high-flying Top 14 outfit, and will join international stars like Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau and Bakkies Botha in a star-studded outfit for the start of next season.
Jenkins is the latest key member of Warren Gatland’s Wales squad to opt for a move to France, with James Hook, Mike Phillips and Lee Byrne already gone, and Luke Charteris set to follow them.
Wing Aled Brew has also joined Biarritz.
It brings to an end an eight-year spell with the Blues, with Jenkins unable to agree a new deal with chairman Peter Thomas, who stated on Saturday that the player had been offered a one-year extension on the same terms.
Last night, Jenkins told the Western Mail that the Blues were not prepared to pay him while he was away with Wales, and so effectively it would have meant him taking a cut in wages.
He refused to comment on his deal with Toulon, but said: “I definitely will not be with the Blues next season, and yes, I am going to France.
“I was offered a deal by the Blues but that was after talks were put off about an extension on several occasions.
“In the end they said they couldn’t pay me while I was fulfilling international commitments and so I felt I had no choice.
“I had to think about my future, just like any player or anyone in any walk of life would do.
“I won’t leave with any bitterness and will give the Blues everything between now and the end of this season, just the same as I have always done.
“But after that, it will be time for me to have a fresh start and a new challenge.”
Blues chairman Thomas spelled out what he believes has to be a new approach to player contracts in an interview at the weekend.
“If you’re working for another company (playing for another team)... then they pay you,” Thomas is reported to have said.
“Be it the Lions, or be it the World Cup, or be it the Welsh Rugby Union, or be it the sevens, or be it the Barbarians.”
Jenkins’ departure will be a huge blow for the Blues, who, along with the other three Welsh regions appear set to embark on a major cost-cutting exercise going forward.
There will be concerns also about how another important player coming under the control of a French club will impact on Gatland’s Wales.
Jenkins has vowed to do everything he can to be involved with his country for the 2015 World Cup, saying it will depend on how his body stands up to the increasingly physical rigours of modern-day rugby.
But he remains an absolutely central figure in Gatland’s plans as the New Zealander plots Wales’ assault on this year’s Six Nations title and a possible Grand Slam.
Jenkins’ French sojourn will be the first time he has played outside of Wales, having begun his career with Pontypridd before moving to the now-defunct Celtic Warriors side when regional rugby was introduced in 2003.
A year later he joined the Blues and has been a virtual ever-present in his time with the region.