Halfpenny ready to seize chance
October 6, 2011
Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny is desperate to succeed after being picked ahead of Lions James Hook and Lee Byrne © Getty Images
Wales flyer Leigh Halfpenny is determined to take the opportunity he has been waiting for when he lines up against Ireland in Saturday's opening World Cup quarter-final.
Halfpenny has been selected at fullback, rather than on the wing, and preferred ahead of British & Irish Lions James Hook and Lee Byrne. But many will not know it is a return to the position he regularly filled while rising through the age-grade ranks until graduating as a senior Test match player.
"For me, it is a dream come true," Halfpenny said. "I have always wanted to play fullback for my country and what a time to do it, in the quarter-final of the World Cup. I couldn't wish for more.
"I am really pleased to be picked there and to be given an opportunity. I want to take it with both hands. I always played fullback growing up. It is just where I felt I belonged, really, where I have felt most comfortable. I feel I have had my better performances there."
Halfpenny will hope to shine as part of a razor-sharp Wales back division, but with rain and wind having battered Wellington for much of this week, he knows Ireland's strong kicking game could put him under the microscope.
"If it's wet and windy I would imagine they are going to put it (the ball) up quite a bit. But who knows? They could run it," he added. "Whatever they do we will hopefully be prepared for it. I am looking forward to the challenge in the air and looking forward to owning the sky.
"It has been very windy in most of the places we have played in this World Cup, and it can be a factor. I am extremely excited about our back-line. It's full of talent, pace, skill and power. It's quite deadly, and it is crucial we get good ball and express ourselves. We know where our strengths are and we need to execute everything we've got. If chances come in Test rugby, it is important you take them."
That Halfpenny is part of Wales' World Cup campaign is an achievement in itself. The Cardiff Blues player underwent surgery on his foot and ankle area last April, and he faced a frantic race against time to regain full fitness before the tournament.
"There were one or two setbacks in my rehab," he said. "It was really tight. The Argentina (warm-up) game was the goal, and we just made that in time. We've done everything - oxygen chamber, cyrotherapy, underwater treadmill - and the day after my operation I was in rehabbing straightaway because we knew it was so tight in terms of time.
"With the underwater treadmill, the water comes up to about chest height. That takes about 70% of your bodyweight, so you have only got about 30% of your bodyweight going through, which allowed me to get walking again.
"I don't think I could ever think I wouldn't make it (World Cup). If I did, I wouldn't be here now. I just had to remain as positive as I could and I had to keep working as hard as I could."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Last year's thrashing at the hands of Wales was not the first time England have fallen to their rivals. Scrum Sevens looks at whether they have bounced back the following year
With just two rounds left in the 2014 championship, the intensity cranks up a notch at Twickenham. Tom Hamilton previews the weekend's action
"I had a perfect record against England as did a few other Welshmen. England always seemed to bring the best out of us." John Taylor on the age-old rivalry
Are the margins between the teams in the Six Nations getting smaller year-on-year? Huw Richards gives some answers