Half­penny rev­els in re­turn to Wales

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -


When Leigh Half­penny went down clutch­ing his knee in agony in a pre-World Cup warm-up match last year, there was a col­lec­tive sigh of de­spair through­out Wales. The goal-kick­ing full-back’s chance of star­ring at rugby union’s show­piece com­pe­ti­tion went up in smoke against Italy, Half­penny hav­ing to un­dergo op­er­a­tions on his knee that left his club Toulon’s owner Mourad Boud­jel­lal fum­ing.

But Half­penny, Welsh rugby’s third high­est points scorer af­ter Neil Jenk­ins and Stephen Jones, is now back for Wales for the first time in 14 months, hav­ing made his re­turn in Toulon colours in last sea­son’s Top 14 semi-fi­nals. “I’m just ab­so­lutely de­lighted to hear my name read out to start against Aus­tralia, I’m just over the moon to be play­ing af­ter such a long spell away,” Half­penny said ahead of Satur­day’s one-off Test against the Wal­la­bies in Cardiff.

“I’ve missed it, I’ve missed it a heck of a lot. I can’t wait for Satur­day. “Just that feel­ing you get when you put that red jer­sey on with your team­mates and run out into that Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, there is no feel­ing like it. I can’t wait for that again.”

Half­penny added that his ab­sence from the in­ter­na­tional scene had felt “like a long time out”, but that the coach­ing staff had kept the for­mer Cardiff Blues player in the loop.

“Dur­ing the in­jury pe­riod last sea­son, the Welsh staff were amaz­ing in hav­ing me back, dur­ing Christ­mas and again dur­ing the Six Na­tions,” he said. “It was great to be back amongst the boys and work with the med­i­cal staff here, who were ex­tremely help­ful in my re­cov­ery. “It was good to have that change in en­vi­ron­ment and be back in home in Wales to see fam­ily and things like which helped as well af­ter be­ing away for a while,” said the full-back who signed for big-spend­ing Toulon in 2014 af­ter be­ing named man-of-the-se­ries in the win­ning Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions tour of Aus­tralia in 2013.

Half­penny in­sisted that his time off the pad­dock had been well spent. “When you are in­jured, you want to use that time to im­prove on all as­pects of your game, es­pe­cially when you are out for such a lengthy pe­riod,” the 27-year-old said.

“You get a lot of time to work on your skills and other as­pects of your game. Each week when I played I felt the knee was get­ting bet­ter, push­ing off wasn’t the same as before but the sur­geon told me that would be the case, now it is feel­ing nor­mal again.”

There have been many ru­mours about Half­penny’s fu­ture at Toulon, amid fur­ther dis­cus­sions about Boud­jel­lal’s fu­ture. But the full-back was full of praise for Toulon. “That buzz, that feel from the sta­dium, the at­mos­phere is as close to in­ter­na­tional level as you get,” he said of Toulon’s famed Stade Mayol. “It gives you a huge lift. When you come off the bus, you go through that tunnel of the crowd, which is awe­some, then there’s a real buzz when you get into the Stade Mayol. But ob­vi­ously go­ing into the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, you get that even more!”

Half­penny will be up against one of the most ath­let­ics and free-run­ning op­po­nents in Is­rael Fo­lau, a player he de­scribed as “qual­ity”. “He’s very dan­ger­ous with ball in hand, very good in the air,” he said. “They’ve got qual­ity across the park, we need to do ev­ery­thing right, be at our best in de­fence, ex­e­cute our roles. “So many times against Aus­tralia we’ve lost the game in the last minute, we need to learn from those. We have to ex­e­cute our roles in both at­tack and de­fence.” In­deed Wales are on an 11-match los­ing streak to Aus­tralia, but for­wards coach Rob McBryde in­sisted that that statis­tic “hasn’t even en­tered our minds”. “It’s a dif­fer­ent group of play­ers on both sides,” the for­mer Wales hooker said. — AFP

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