Halfpenny ready to step up to the plate again
Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny is set to make his Millennium Stadium return this Saturday – nine weeks after a “frightening” injury blow saw him detained overnight in hospital.
The Cardiff Blues player will be a key part of Wales’ armoury when they launch their Six Nations title defence against Ireland in Cardiff.
And the contrast could hardly be greater, given his last appearance there ended with him being carried off and taken to University Hospital Wales for scans on a neck injury.
With typical disregard for his own welfare, Halfpenny was hurt attempting to halt the move that led to Australia’s dramatic late try from Kurtley Beale that saw Wales agonisingly beaten 14-12.
“It was pretty worrying at the time,” Halfpenny said yesterday, as Wales cranked up preparations for Ireland’s visit.
“I had a dead arm for half-an-hour and I was not sure what sort of damage had been done, so the scans were pretty good news because they showed no nerves had been damaged.
“I was conscious the whole time, but not sure what had happened. I was aware of a numbness in my arm and it was frightening.
“The medical staff were superb and it looked worse than it turned out to be. The doctors and nurses at the hospital were brilliant. I am a bit claustrophobic and they calmed me down before the MRI scan.
“I had a few weeks off and missed games I wanted to play in, but I have played a few games this month and it has been good.
“I have to learn to stop tackling with my head! I tried to protect my left shoulder and ended up making it worse. I have not thought about it in the games I have played since, just throwing myself into it.”
Halfpenny, who is poised to win his 40th cap this weekend, is firmly established among the world’s leading fullbacks at the start of a year highlighted by the Lions’ Australia tour.
Battling it out
Halfpenny and Ireland full-back Rob Kearney could find themselves battling it out for the Lions Test number 15 shirt in June.
Halfpenny, though, is far more focused on success for Wales (they have lost their last seven Tests), rather than any personal accolades or Lions recognition further down the line.
“It is Wales against Ireland and if I am picked to play it is about doing a job for your country and the jersey justice, giving it everything it deserves. That is all I am worried about . . .
“The first game in the Six Nations is always important because of the confidence a win brings, as we showed in Dublin last year. The focus is on getting a good start.
“We are determined to put things right after the autumn and prove people wrong. From day one in training we have been working hard to make sure we are fully prepared, with no stone left unturned to make sure we get it right on Saturday.
“We are the champions. That brings pressure, but we showed last year, off the back of the World Cup, that we could cope with pressure and expectation. We dealt with it and won the Grand Slam.
“The squad is still really young but hugely experienced and it is about taking things to the next level and stepping it up. We did not show what we were capable of in the autumn until the second half against New Zealand. We were back to the team we were in the (2012) Six Nations and we can take huge confidence from that and the Australia game . . .”
Wales are considering including Olly Kohn in their match-day 23 for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium, even though the Harlequins secondrow started training with the squad only this week.
The 31-year old was called up by Wales on Friday, a couple of weeks after they learned he qualified through a grandfather who was born in the Rhymney Valley.
With Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies ruled out of at least part of the campaign and Ian Evans not having played for two months, the Six Nations champions are short of options in the second row.
“Olly plays for the team who are the Premiership champions and the No1 seeds in the Heineken Cup, so he is operating at quite a high level,” said the Wales defence coach, Shaun Edwards.
“We felt we needed beefing up in that area and he will potentially get his chance.”
“He brings a physical presence. His scrummaging power would be at the forefront of his game, but he has other parts, too.”