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Leigh Halfpenny to resume kicking duties on Wales return

Published 03/11/2016

Leigh Halfpenny will return for Wales after a lengthy injury absence in Saturday's Test match against Australia
Leigh Halfpenny will return for Wales after a lengthy injury absence in Saturday's Test match against Australia

Leigh Halfpenny will end a 14-month absence from the Test match arena on Saturday - and immediately resume the high-pressure role of principal goalkicker.

Toulon star Halfpenny lines up at full-back against Cardiff visitors Australia for his first Wales appearance since he suffered knee ligament damage during a World Cup warm-up game in September last year.

And in doing so, the second-highest points scorer in Wales international rugby history behind Neil Jenkins will resume a role that passed to fly-half Dan Biggar in his prolonged absence.

Biggar did a brilliant job, averaging 11 points a Test during that spell, but Halfpenny is now ready for his return to the front line.

"Leigh Halfpenny starts as goalkicker," Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley said.

"We have spoken to Dan. He has done fantastically well, with the way he kicked in the World Cup, the Six Nations and in New Zealand (in June). We are lucky enough to have two world-class goalkickers.

"The conversations we have had with both is we feel Leigh doesn't deserve to have the goalkicking taken away from him."

Given that six of Wales' last 11 Tests against the Wallabies have been decided by five points or less - all in Australia's favour - Halfpenny could find himself quickly back in the spotlight.

Cardiff Blues' Alex Cuthbert is named on the wing in a reshaped back-three - Liam Williams misses out through injury - while 126 times-capped prop Gethin Jenkins captains Wales instead of Sam Warburton.

Warburton will begin his comeback from injury for the Blues against Treviso in Italy on Friday, so Justin Tipuric lines up at openside flanker in a back-row that also features Dan Lydiate and Gloucester's Ross Moriarty, who takes over from injured number eight Taulupe Faletau.

Lock Alun Wyn Jones, meanwhile, was not considered for selection following the death of his father, with Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris forging Wales' second-row partnership as they target a first victory over Australia since 2008.

And two uncapped players - Ospreys fly-half Sam Davies and Newport Gwent Dragons lock Cory Hill - have been named among the replacements.

Jenkins, who will be 36 later this month, leads Wales for the seventh time in his career, while the starting line-up has a combined total of 802 caps.

Howley added: "Unfortunately, Liam hasn't made it. We are hopeful that he will train early next week and be available next week, which is really good news.

"But we have three British and Irish Lions in the back three, three potent try scorers, and we are delighted to have them back in."

Wales have not beaten Australia for eight years - Jenkins and centre Jamie Roberts are the only survivors this weekend from that starting XV - and Jenkins said: "We've come up close a couple of times, and obviously lost in the last play of the game a few times.

"They are a quality team. We know we've got to be on the top of our game to get a result against them, and Saturday will be no different.

"They are coming here on the back of what has been some improved performances in the Rugby Championship, and they will be looking at their past history against us to try and get that victory.

"One of the things we learnt from the summer (in New Zealand) and the way the ga me is going in general, everyone needs to be comfortable on the ball.

"We have been doing a lot more skills in the week, and working on that under pressure.

"We need to have the confidence and the ability to do that work on the field on a Saturday, and not perhaps go into our shells."

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