Halfpenny desperate to star for Lions
May 5, 2013
Leigh Halfpenny secured his place on the tour after an outstanding Six Nations campaign with Wales © PA Photos
Leigh Halfpenny is determined to make his mark for the Lions in Australia, and erase the memory of the injury woes which blighted his tour of South Africa four years ago.
The name of the Cardiff Blues and Wales fullback was the first read out when tour manager Andy Irvine announced Warren Gatland's squad on Tuesday. From the outset the 24-year-old was a shoo-in for selection after a superb series of performances over the past 18 months, culminating in his winning of the Six Nations Player of the Tournament award.
Four years ago Halfpenny was seen as something of a surprise inclusion in Sir Ian McGeechan's squad, despite an eye-catching first season as a professional. But his first Lions experience would prove to be one full of frustration.
Halfpenny missed the start of the tour with a quad injury and, when he did eventually join up with the party, he made just a single appearance against Free State Cheetahs before a recurrence of the problem saw him return home. His disappointment was made all the worse as Halfpenny's arrival back at Heathrow from South Africa coincided with his father making the journey in the opposite direction. Halfpenny hopes he will have happier memories this time round.
He said: "Going to South Africa was totally unexpected. If somebody had told me at the beginning of the season that I would be on the tour I wouldn't have believed them. It was a great experience and something I learnt massively from. I enjoyed my time but I was gutted to have to leave.
"This time round I have a lot of experience at international level and I'm looking to do the best I can for the Lions. I'm sure this Lions squad will be successful Down Under. Having experienced it and seen how special it is only makes me hungrier.
"I've done everything possible to go on this tour. A lot of hard work has gone in all year and to hear my name called out first was a huge relief. It was pretty emotional as well."
Taking on the Wallabies will also have particular resonance for Halfpenny, whose first memories of watching the world's most famous touring side was on their last visit Down Under in 2001. And he believes Australia's resilience in fighting back from losing the first Test to take a 2-1 series win, shows what the Lions can expect this summer.
"My first real Lions experience was watching the 2001 tour of Australia," said Halfpenny. "There are so many great memories of that tour. There was Jason Robinson going around Chris Latham within two or three yards for the first try in the first Test, and the passion he showed and how the stadium erupted.
"There was also Brian O'Driscoll going through a gap that wasn't even there for his try. But that tour showed the Aussies are a quality outfit and they will be a tough team to beat again. It will be a difficult series but we can be confident."
Australians, meanwhile, have welcomed the selection of a large Welsh contingent in Gatland's tour party, pointing to Wales' run of eight straight defeats against the Wallabies.
"For us as Welsh players, we experienced it last summer and we can take confidence from how close we got."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September