Halfpenny heartbroken by Wales exit
October 15, 2011
Leigh Halfpenny came so close to clinching a first ever World Cup final appearance for Wales © Getty Images
Leigh Halfpenny has admitted that he thought that he kicked Wales into the Rugby World Cup final only to see his late penalty attempt in Saturday's 9-8 defeat by France fall agonisingly short.
Warren Gatland's side took an early lead in their last-four showdown with Les Bleus in Auckland courtesy of a penalty from fly-half James Hook but they then lost captain Sam Warburton to a controversial red card for a tip tackle on Vincent Clerc.
Three subsequent penalties saw the French pull six points clear but then Mike Phillips dragged an inspired Welsh side right back into the contest when he darted over shortly before the hour.
The 14-man Welsh then dominated the final quarter but failed to claim a deserved victory, with Halfpenny failing to convert when presented with a 48-metre penalty with just over four minutes to go.
"I thought the kick was there," the Cardiff Blues ace said. "I did not hit it quite properly, but I still thought it was going over. It was not the best strike, but it was on target and I will have to look at the video again to see how close it was.
"I have put a lot of work into my kicking over the years, and it all came down to that moment. It was not to be and it was massively disappointing. It kills me talking about it."
Indeed, Halfpenny believes that there is absolutely nothing more that Wales could have done in terms of preparation and effort to win the game.
"You cannot fault the effort of the boys. Everyone gave everything," the fullback said. "It was an outstanding effort, but it was not to be our day.
"We are massively disappointed at going out. We believed we could come here and win and be in the final. We believed that from the very beginning.
"From all the hard work and everything, I can honestly tell you that the boys have given absolutely everything we possibly could have done in terms of preparation.
"In every game the boys have given their absolute all and this is just so massively disappointing, but all credit to France. They knew how to win, and they did so."
Halfpenny pointed out, though, that the game had hinged on the 18th-minute dismissal of Warburton and the former British & Irish Lion is adamant that the Wales captain should not have seen red.
"A yellow card would have sufficed for Sam, and it would have helped the game a bit," he said. "We were massively disappointed to see Sam go because he has been phenomenal for us. He has been an absolute credit to us and to Wales.
"I cannot speak highly enough of the guy. He has been immense for us, and it was hugely disappointing to see him leaving the field."
Despite the overriding feeling of devastation at having missed out on the opportunity to play in the game's showpiece event, Halfpenny feels that Wales' players need to instead focus on the thrilling and heroic nature of their performances in New Zealand.
"We have to look forward," he said. "The experience the youngsters will have gained from this has been immense, and I am sure it will help them in the future when they are in another situation like it.
"We got this far with a young side. I am sure this experience will make every single one of us stronger. We can go back home and be proud to be Welsh, and in four years' time [at England 2015] I hope we can go one step further.
"Warren said he was massively proud of us and could not have asked for more from us. We have given our all, and to be semi-finalists is incredible. We were so close to the final.
"It is a hard pill to swallow, but the experience will be invaluable to a young squad and it will help us massively in the future."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"The days of when one team dominated the championship are a thing of the past, I think it will be even closer next year." The Phil Vickery column
The 2014 Six Nations has been and gone and the tournament has been painted green. Monday Maul looks back at the weekend's talking points
"The fairytale continued right to the end for the magic man." Tom Hamilton reports on the game that saw Brian O'Driscoll bid adieu with the Six Nations title
"It is a sign of how far this England team have come that they looked disappointed at the full-time whistle having just put 52 points on Italy." Tom Hamilton writes