This was what Rhys Webb had in mind; sign for Toulon, remain available for Wales, join a squad of Galacticos, enjoy major occasions in grand arenas and challenge for titles.
Well, it has not quite worked out that way. No sooner had he agreed to move to the Cote d’Azur than the Welsh Rugby Union announced that their Test selection policy was changing and he would be ineligible.
Then a handful of Toulon’s marquee names left the club and Webb suffered a hamstring tear.
Scrum-half Rhys Webb has insisted he maintains hope of earning a Wales recall in the future
The injury was misdiagnosed and that led to an aborted comeback and a long absence. By the time he returned to action, Toulon’s season was already a lost cause on all fronts.
Yet, the 30-year-old Lions scrum-half insists he has no regrets, even though he and his team have only battered pride to play for in Saturday’s Champions Cup clash with Edinburgh at Stade Mayol.
When Webb was stuck in rehabilitation, watching his team losing week after week, surely he wondered what he had done? Apparently not.
‘I didn’t have any doubts. I was at the stage of my career where I needed a change,’ he said. ‘When I signed we had Chris Ashton, Duane Vermeulen and Semi Radradra.
‘Then they all left and I thought, “Jeez, what’s going on here?”. I was looking forward to playing with those guys but they left, so I knew it might be a bit different.
‘Then being injured and with the results going not so well, you feel worthless. I’m just glad to be back out there and I’m enjoying it.’
The 30-year-old suffered a misdiagnosed injury early in his Toulon career but is now back
Webb understands how his lifestyle is perceived. ‘Everyone says, ‘You’re living the dream over there’,’ he said.
Yet as well as the Mediterranean climate, the house with a pool and the al fresco dining, Webb relishes match-day at Stade Mayol; starting with the famous walk from the team coach through hordes of fans packed around one corner of the ground.
Players must remove headphones out of respect for their partisan public. Then there is the pre-match Pilou Pilou chant and so much noise from the stands. ‘It’s like a football crowd,’ he said.
However Webb has not sampled the fervour often enough. When he tore a hamstring in September against Castres, the injury was underestimated.
‘The first scan indicated a grade-two tear, which meant being out for four to six weeks,’ he said. ‘When it got to the fifth week, they were excited about me wanting to play, but when I did fitness or speed work, I was running but couldn’t go faster.
‘They were saying, “It’s all good, it’s just heat, be confident, you don’t have to think about it”, but there was pain in my hamstring and I just said, “This is definitely not right”. After another scan they admitted, “It’s worse — it’s a grade three”.’
Webb has only 33 caps for Wales so does not qualify for the 60-cap exemption selection rule
Asked about the medical support in France compared with Wales, Webb is diplomatic: ‘They are trying to catch up with how things are done in Wales and England and Ireland. It’s getting better.’
So what of the Wales situation? Back in September, national coach Warren Gatland said: ‘I feel so sorry for Rhys Webb. I’d love the opportunity to pick him but the rules say I can’t. But if there are couple of injuries I would like to think that common sense would prevail.’
WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips has insisted they would enforce the edict barring the selection of exiles with fewer than 60 caps.
For his part, Webb — who has 33 caps — will not abandon hope of adding to that tally in this World Cup year. He has spoken before about his upset over the WRU policy. Now that he is fit again, Webb is harnessing that sense of injustice to prove he remains Wales’ top scrum-half — a man who should be in the starting XV if chosen purely on merit.
Webb was selected in the squad for the British & Irish Lions on their 2017 tour to New Zealand
‘I haven’t closed the door on my international career,’ he said. ‘The WRU brought out their ruling at the time and they needed to “capture” someone — luckily enough I’m a strong enough person for them to catch!
‘It motivates me and I hope I can put in some strong performances for Toulon. Who knows what might happen then.
‘Back home, the No 9 jersey is still up for grabs. No-one has really put their hand up for it, so I’m still motivated and my phone will always be on. They’ve got my French number! If they needed me, I’d jump at the chance.
‘I’m over the injury and now I just have to keep it going. If someone got injured, who knows, Wales might call me up. Me or Mike Phillips!’
The plan is to attend a couple of Six Nations game as a spectator, including the tournament opener in Paris.
‘I might go to watch the France v Wales game at the Stade de France,’ said Webb. ‘I’ll take my boots with me, just in case!’
Joking aside, Webb is simply too good to overlook for the World Cup, as Gatland knows. It is to be hoped that common sense will indeed prevail, Webb’s luck will change and he will be on duty in Japan. Dream on: Webb isn’t giving up on playing for Wales.
The former Osprey still hopes to attend the upcoming Six Nations – but this time as a fan