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World Cup winner Ben Cohen backs Wales boys to shine in France

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: May 17, 2014

Ben Cohen has backed Leigh Halfpenny to thrive in France, despite the pressure that comes with his salary.

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LEIGH Halfpenny has been backed to have the time of his life at Toulon, despite the pressure that is bound to come with his reported £600,000-a-year salary.

The upbeat assessment of the Gorseinon man's prospects over the next three seasons comes from former England World Cup winner Ben Cohen, who spent two years playing in the Top 14 with Brive towards the end of his playing career.

Halfpenny is set to have huge expectations on him as the best-paid Welsh player ever, but Cohen is optimistic the 25-year-old will cope with French life and ultimately prove a smash hit with supporters on the Cote d'Azur.

"Leigh is a phenomenal player who has proved himself with the Lions, Wales and Cardiff Blues," said Cohen.

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"Yes, there may be people who talk about what he'll be earning.

"But I'm sure the expectations won't bother him.

"He's a proven international and someone who knows how to respond when the pressure is on. Expectations are part of the deal at every level of rugby, whether you play for a Heineken Cup-winning club or a lower-league team. No-one has higher expectations for top-level players than the boys themselves. You can't go around worrying that you won't meet the expectations of others.

"Toulon will want their money's worth but I'd expect Leigh to give it to them without worries.

"It's just a great place to play rugby.

"They have serious strength in depth and have developed a great environment, with outstanding players, coaches and a big fan base. Throw in the brilliant weather and you can see why the move has such appeal.

"The money side will be a bonus.

"When you are running around on the pitch you do not think about how many pounds or euros you are clocking up in the bank. You think about the next break you are going to make or the next tackle you will to put in.

"Leigh is a good professional and he will relish out there.

"He'll have a blast."

Halfpenny isn't the only Welshman heading to the Top 14 this summer, with Ian Evans also going to Toulon and Jonathan Davies pitching up at Clermont Auvergne, joining the likes of Mike Phillips, Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate in the most glamorous league in the world.

There is uncertainly about the futures of James Hook and Luke Charteris after Perpignan's relegation from the French top flight.

But Cohen still believes there is plenty for the new signings to look forward to.

"Playing in France isn't just about the money," he said.

"The quality of life is just so different and diverse. A player could end up in a city, a town or near a beach. It's just a big experience.

"The language can be a problem, unless your name is Jonny Wilkinson and you are more fluent than some of the locals. You just have to persevere with it because it is hugely important on and off the pitch. On the field, you need to know what your team-mates are saying, because it's easy to cross wires.

"I didn't really get to grips with the language, which made it tougher than it might have been for me out there. But I still enjoyed it."

Cohen has no doubt that Hook will find a club if he opts to leave Perpignan. "He'll be okay," said the ex-wing.

"He's a former Lion who has played well for clubs in Wales and France, so there are bound to be plenty of people out there interested in recruiting him."

Thanks to global French-language TV channel TV5MONDE, one lucky rugby fan will win two VIP tickets to the Top 14 Rugby final on May 31st, return UK travel and two nights' accommodation in central Paris. What's more, they will watch the game with England World Cup winner Ben Cohen. To enter, simply go to www.tv5monde.co.uk. The closing date is midnight, May 19th; terms and conditions apply, see online.

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