Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Leigh Halfpenny delaying thoughts on future as Toulon prepare to host Saracens

Wales star Leigh Halfpenny insists he has not thought about his playing future beyond this season as he prepares to enter the European Champions Cup arena on Saturday.

Halfpenny will be an integral part of Toulon's bid to claim an opening weekend win against European champions Saracens at Stade Mayol, continuing his comeback from a serious knee injury that meant he missed the entire 2015 World Cup.

The 27-year-old is out of contract on the Cote d'Azur next summer, with speculation rife that the former Cardiff Blues full-back could return to Wales.

"Since the injury last year, I have just wanted to completely focus on my rugby and not really think about my future at this point in time," Halfpenny told reporters on Thursday.

"Obviously, I realise that there will be a time when I have to start thinking about that decision, and I am sure that will start in the next couple of months.

"But, right now, I can honestly say I haven't thought about what my decision is going to be for next season.

"I am just focusing on trying to get back to full fitness and trying to improve game on game and put in good performances for Toulon."

Halfpenny spent nine months on the sidelines after rupturing knee ligaments during Wales' final World Cup warm-up game against Italy in September last year.

On a dark day for Wales, they also saw scrum-half Rhys Webb carried off injured and ruled out of the tournament, but both players are now back and firing and set to be named in interim head coach Rob Howley's autumn Test squad next week.

"The injury was a tough period," Halfpenny added. "The timing of it just before the World Cup was hugely disappointing.

"I've had a few injuries in my career, and it was probably the toughest one I've ever had in terms of the rehab, and getting back to full fitness has been tough.

"It was an extremely intense rehab, and the medical and conditioning staff at Toulon and the Welsh Rugby Union were excellent in helping me get back to full fitness.

"I am just enjoying being back playing - I missed it so much. The knee is feeling good. I feel that every game I play it's getting better and better, so it's good to be back.

"I definitely feel like I am not far away from where I was before the injury.

"It took a few games to get back into things, but certainly the last couple of games, I feel like I am getting more back into the rhythm of things and to where I was before the injury."

Halfpenny returned to action for Toulon in the Top 14 semi-finals last June, and he has been a key part of his club's opening seven games this season.

"I have missed playing the game," he said.

"It's great to be back in amongst it, and this weekend against Saracens is another test for us. They are current European champions, so it is going to be a massive challenge.

"They are a quality outfit, very organised and well-drilled. We have to be at our best on Saturday if we want to get a result.

"Ever since I have been involved in the Heineken Cup or Champions Cup, there has been that buzz in the build-up to the tournament.

"For me, it is another step up in intensity. You have got the best teams in Europe going against each other, and teams really lift their game for the tournament.

"Sometimes, I've come off the field or woke up the next morning after a European Cup game, and you feel like you have been in an international match. The intensity is right up there."


From Belfast Telegraph