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Halfpenny ready to lay down marker

Leigh Halfpenny has warned that Wales will need "to be on the money for 80 minutes" this weekend in their pursuit of a prize that has eluded them for six painful years.

Wales have not beaten a southern hemisphere giant - Australia, New Zealand or South Africa - since November 2008, a run of 20 successive defeats.

Nine of those losses were against Saturday's opponents Australia, and five times Wales went down to defeat by four points or less, reeling from such agonising setbacks as 20-19, 25-23 and 14-12.

The countries' latest meeting - it will be played on a new £3.1million hybrid Millennium Stadium pitch - is given added significance by them being drawn together in next year's World Cup pool stages alongside host nation England. Only two teams will secure quarter-final places.

While that Twickenham World Cup clash between Wales and the Wallabies is still 11 months away, full-back star Halfpenny accepts that now is the time to put down a marker.

"We are striving to be the best in the world, and to be that you have got to beat the best. Saturday is an opportunity to do that," said Halfpenny, who has lost eight times in Wales colours against Australia, but beaten them twice with the British and Irish Lions.

"We know it's going to be a challenge, but one we are very much looking forward to and one where we are determined to come away with the win.

"Obviously, with the World Cup around the corner and Australia being in our group, to get a win over them would be huge for us.

"We have been there or thereabouts pretty much every game against them. It's about that concentration for the full 80 minutes.

"In a number of the games, Australia has beaten us on the last play or with a few minutes left, so we can't switch off for one second. They have players who can hurt you, and we have to be on the money for 80 minutes."

Halfpenny is poised to make his first Wales appearance since suffering a serious shoulder injury during last season's RBS 6 Nations defeat against England.

And he will go into the four-Test autumn campaign following a difficult introduction to life with big-spending European champions Toulon, whose controversial owner Mourad Boudjellal threatened in September that he could terminate Halfpenny's contract after claiming that he might have arrived on the Cote d'Azur nursing a groin problem.

It led to suggestions that 25-year-old Halfpenny could even return to Wales, although the dust has now settled and he made his Toulon debut last month.

"I picked up an injury in the first couple of weeks," Halfpenny added.

"Going to a new team, you want to make a good impression, and not being able to do that was really frustrating. I was dying to just get out there and play for the squad and for the team.

"It was a long process, but I managed to get back and I've played three games now. I've loved the experience and loved playing for the team there.

"I was determined when I went out there to make a success of it and do what I wanted to do, namely make myself a better player by playing alongside the boys they have there and learning from them as well.

"That was a new challenge for me, which I felt I needed. I wanted to take on a new challenge, play for a new team, improve myself in that team, enjoy a new lifestyle and culture and learn a new language."

Halfpenny's relentless goalkicking accuracy - he needs five points to reach 400 for Wales - is likely to be required again on Saturday in a game that many pundits believe is too close to call.

He has stepped up to the plate numerous times for Wales and the Lions, but behind that unflappable exterior and the exemplary kicking routine moulded by Wales' record international points scorer and current national squad skills coach Neil Jenkins, lies Halfpenny's own method of dealing with acute pressure.

"I have worked a long time with Neil. He has brought through from the academies right up to international level, and we have found a way that suits me," Halfpenny said.

"Believe me, inside, my heart is thumping like mad.

"The boys work hard getting the penalties and scoring tries, so, as a kicker, you want to reward your team-mates with the extra two or three points that they have worked so hard for. It is huge pressure, but at the same time it's a privilege for me.

"I just try and picture myself in a quiet place, where I grew up playing for Gorseinon. I picture myself there for just a brief second.

"You can't really shut out the crowd - you are always aware of that - but closing my eyes and picturing myself in Gorseinon allows me to be calm. I go through my process then that I need to go through to make the kick successful."

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