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France's big guns set their sights on Warburton; French big guns' sights are on Sam.

Byline: ANDY HOWELL andy.howell@walesonline.co.uk

SAM WARBURTON is being targeted by money-laden French powerhouses Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro.

The Lions and Wales captain is wanted by the French duo who are also understood to be in the race for Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien, whose contract with Leinster expires at the end of the season.

The futures of Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and a raft of other soon to be out-of-contract Wales stars was by Welsh rugby's power-brokers at a meeting of the Professional Regional Game Board on Wednesday.

WRU bosses and the regions are desperate to find a formula to stem the damaging exodus to France of Warren Gatland's key men.

We revealed two days ago Lions full-back sensation Halfpenny, favourite to be world player of the year, is on the radar of European champions Toulon.

But we can disclose Warburton is also high on the French wanted list, Clermont and Racing Metro coveting his blockbusting skills at openside.

The WRU has produced an extra PS1m in funding in a bold bid to persuade Halfpenny and Warburton plus the soon to be out-of-contract Ospreys trio of Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans to continue playing in Wales.

Jonathan Davies, the Scarlets skipper, is another clubs in England and France will be looking at following his exploits with Wales and the Lions during the summer. Discussions at the meeting of the Professional Game Board, which consists of WRU and Regional Rugby Wales representatives, centred around how the extra money could be divided in order to retain the country'stars.

Tied into that was the future of the Heineken Cup, which is a huge money earner for the Welsh regions. There is genuine concern that Warburton, Halfpenny, Jones, AlunWyn, Evans and Davies could follow the likes of George North, Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, Luke Charteris and James Hook out of Wales if nothing concrete is formulated in the near future.

Wales' regions are desperate to hang on to their big names while Gatland and the WRU. fear losing control of more players could undermine the bid to lift the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham. Warburton and Halfpenny have declined to talk in detail about their futures, but their Lions team-mate O'Brien was more forthcoming, confirming he might move to France. "It is something that I would have to consider. I have to take into consideration my best interests. I have to look after me," said the powerful ball-carrier

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Sep 27, 2013
Words:430
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