What's happening with Leigh Halfpenny as Wales favourite stranded so close to his dream

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The assumption is Leigh Halfpenny is doing things by the book as he continues his recovery from the knee injury that ruined what should have been one of the most memorable days of his career.

Some might think he actually wrote the book on how a professional rugby player should conduct himself in all situations.

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It was back in July when the Wales international came to grief barely 30 seconds into his hundredth Test and suffered major ligament damage. The images of him in tears as he left the pitch were utterly heartbreaking.

At 32, he faced a long-haul back to fitness, involving much patience, effort and loneliness away from the mainstream training environment.

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So serious was the injury that it was even being whispered in some quarters immediately afterwards that Halfpenny might decide enough was enough and opt to call time on his career.

But that was never an option.

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And the good news is Halfpenny is making progress along the road to recovery.

A source close to him told WalesOnline: “Leigh is fine and on track.

“It’s hard to say with certainty when he’ll be back.

“There’s an outside chance that he could see some action late in the season, but If there’s the slightest risk that will cause him a problem then he’ll hold off until next term.

“The main thing is he comes back 100 percent fit.

“Obviously, it hasn’t been easy, but he is slowly getting to where he wants to be.”

Halfpenny will be guided by the medics, of course he will, there being more chance of the Dalai Lama holding a boozy lockdown party than there is of the Scarlet cutting corners in his recovery.

For his career has been marked by doing things properly.

Not for nothing did Warren Gatland once rate him as the most professional Wales player he’d coached.

Team-mates have always respected him for the way he conducts himself, too.

Here’s Shane Williams’ take on him: “When I played in the same team as Leigh, he was always first on the training paddock and last off, almost Johnny Wilkinson-sque in the way he did things.

“He gives everything for the cause and is so professional.

“Being sidelined for so long will frustrate the life out of him, not being able to train and play rugby.

“But he’ll know not to rush it.

“He’s meticulous in the way he does things and he’ll do as the physios and doctors tell him.”

There are still big incentives for Halfpenny to return not just with the Scarlets but also with Wales.

What's happening with Leigh Halfpenny as Wales favourite stranded so close to his dream
© Huw Evans Picture Agency Leigh Halfpenny is stretchered off the field

On the Test front, there is the small matter of claiming the four more caps to complete a century for his country. Just maybe, Halfpenny will also be targeting a third World Cup after appearing in the 2011 and 2019 tournaments.

It would be some achievement if he did make the global bash in France in 2023, when he’d be knocking on the door of his 35th birthday.

But never say never.

Maybe he has a better chance of reaching his ton of appearances with Wales, though that’s not guaranteed, either.

But let’s be positive and say Halfpenny at his best is a player selectors will think twice about overlooking.

One of the finest displays by a full-back of any nationality this writer has seen over the past 10 years came from the Gorseinon man for the Scarlets against Munster in 2019.

He had just returned from an extended spell on the sidelines with concussion. The weather was also appalling, particularly for a No. 15, with swirling wind and rain blowing through Parc y Scarlets.

But Halfpenny didn’t make a single mistake in attack or defence that evening.

He played a part in the game’s lone try, came to the rescue of team-mates in trouble and also had a direct hand in saving a touchdown with trademark covering and anticipation. That night, it was easy to understand why Gatland thought so highly of him.

His best Wales performance?

Hard to say, but his effort against England at Twickenham in 2012 takes some beating. One moment stands out, saving the match for Wales and securing them the Triple crown. It came in the final minute, when England swung the ball right with Halfpenny some 60 metres across the field.

He’d already been on the pitch for 80 minutes and must have been tired, but the Wales full-back covered the ground in six seconds and threw himself into the path of Dave Strettle as the England wing prepared to dive for the line. It was absurdly brave, recklessly brave even. But Halfpenny was not going to allow Wales’ lead to slip that day. They won 19-12.

It isn’t guaranteed he will reach 100 appearances for his country.

But don’t back against it happening.

“You’d hope that he would get there, because how many times has he won matches for Wales with his kicking, bravery and all-round game?” asked Williams.

“When I played in the Warren Gatland era, Leigh was always there. Defensively, if the ball went up in the air, he would go for it. He’d throw himself into tackles. He’d read play well. He always showed courage.

“It is a big injury and it will take its toll.

“But I wouldn’t write him off.

“He’ll want to get back and concentrate on returning to his best.

“I think there’s a couple of years left in him.”

If he does secure the caps he needs for his century, the certainty is there will be plenty of plaudits, with Halfpenny among the most popular Welsh players.

His commitment to the national cause stood out from his first Wales press conference back in 2008. Then, speaking to a huddle of journalists from evening newspapers, he told with passion in his eyes how much of an honour it was to be selected by Wales.

They were not just words. They were Leigh Halfpenny words: he truly meant them. Journalists moved closer to listen to his hushed tones. “Great to hear,” one said immediately after.

But one thing that won’t be heard from the Scarlet is self-praise.

“If others had all his Wales caps and achievements with the Lions, they might be tempted to come across as a bit cocky,” said Williams.

“But that isn’t Leigh, never has been.

“When he came into the Wales set-up he was quiet, unassuming and very humble, just a lovely guy who worked hard at his game and gave everything to the cause. I don’t think he’s changed.”

Unsurprisingly, his amiable and grounded personality works with supporters and club stalwarts, too. It was to the fore even during his days with Toulon, when Gorseinon RFC invited their former age-grad star Halfpenny to a function at the club.

The expectation was that he would stay for an hour, shake a few hand and perhaps make his excuses and leave. But Halfpenny went the extra mile.

“Leigh stayed all night,” Gorseinon’s Dennis Davies told this writer. “He could not have been more helpful and willing to give something back.

“We held the event at The Bug — a local workmen’s club — and the place was rammed, with next to no standing room.

“Leigh autographed every scrap of paper that was put in front of him. Some people even took their shoes and socks off and asked him to sign their feet, which he did, while he posed for loads of photographs.

“He is a humble lad who has never let success go to his head. In any walk of life, that matters.”

Let’s hope his recovery from injury stays on track.

Want the latest Welsh rugby news sent straight to you? Look no further.

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