By Paul Jones
There won’t be a dry eye in the Halfpenny household – or at the Principality Stadium – when Leigh Halfpenny takes to the field for one last time in a Welsh jersey against the Barbarians on Saturday.
After 15 years and 101 caps, he will be hanging up his boots at international level before taking his place among the modern-day greats of Welsh rugby.
His has been an incredible career, as the following statistics prove:
Born: 22 December 1988 in Swansea
Height: 1.75m / 5′ 9“
Weight: 83.64kg / 13st 2lbs
Schools: Pontybrenin Primary School, Penyrheol CS, Swansea College
First Club: Gorseinon
Senior Clubs: Ospreys Academy, Cardiff RFC, Cardiff Blues, Toulon, Scarlets
Cap No: Wales 1060; Lions 775
Wales U16, U18, U19, U20, Barbarians, Wales, British & Irish Lions
Wales Cap No 1: v South Africa 8 November 2008 (Cardiff)
Wales Cap No 101: v 16 September 2023 (Nice)
Lions Test Debut: v Australia 22 June 2013 (Brisbane)
Wales Points: 101 caps – 801 points (Tries: 15, Cons: 81, Pens: 188) 82.5% success
Lions Tests: 4 caps – 49 points (Cons: 5, Pens: 13) 81.8% success
Lions Points: 11 games – 145 points (Tries: 3, Cons: 23, Pens: 28)
Grand Slam / Triple Crown (2012), Six Nations titles (2013, 2021), Six Nations Player of the Championship (2013), BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year (2013), Lions tours (2009, 2013, 2017), Lions Player of the Series (2013), EDF Energy Cup (Cardiff, 2009), European Challenge Cup (Cardiff, 2010), Heineken Champions Cup (Toulon, 2015)
1st = with Neil Jenkins as highest scorer in a Six Nations season with 74 (2013)
1st = with Neil Jenkins with most penalties in a Six Nations match v Scotland 7 (2013)
1st = with Neil Jenkins with most penalties in a Six Nations season 19 (2013)
2nd highest points scorer in Six Nations behind Stephen Jones (467) with 424
3rd highest points scorer behind Neil Jenkins (1049) and Stephen Jones (917) with 801
Here’s the Wales team that will take on the Barbarians at the Principality Stadium on Saturday 🏉
Full-back Leigh Halfpenny starts in his final Wales game 🏴
Flanker Jac Morgan captains the side 💪
Dragons prop Lloyd Fairbrother handed first Wales start 👏#BBCRugby
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) November 2, 2023
Most Points in a Test Series – 49 (Australia 2013)
Most Points in a Test Match – 21 (Australia 3rd Test 2013)
He retires as the 15th highest points scorer in World Rugby history with 850 Test points
Only eight others have kicked more than his 201 Test penalty goals: Dan Carter, Owen Farrell, Jonny Wilkinson, Neil Jenkins, Johnny Sexton,
Diego Dominguez, Florin Vlaicu and Ronan O’Gara
Leading points scorer at the 2007 IRB U19 Junior World Championships – 57
10th highest points scorer in EPCR Champions Cup – 523 (58 matches)
He says: “I thought long and hard about my future after coming back from the World Cup. I chatted with my family about my decision to retire and it just feels like the right time just after another World Cup cycle,” admitted Leigh.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to wear the jersey over the last 15 years. It’s been an absolute privilege to put on the Welsh shirt, and I’m really excited for Saturday.
“I hear there are a couple of buses coming from Gorseinon RFC, my first clubs, and I’ve got a few friends and family coming along. I’m just looking forward to going out there one last time.
“I have to say a massive ‘thank you’ to Warren Gatland for all the opportunities he gave me with both Wales and the Lons. He gave me my first cap against South Africa when I was only 19, and it will feel very special to run out one last team playing for him.”
How can Leigh Halfpenny possibly be retiring from international rugby? It only seems 5 mins since he was making his debut for Cardiff!
It’s a shameless excuse to watch his best ever try – in the EDF final against Gloucester.
This never gets old. 😁 https://t.co/aDFd5TNzjd
— CF10 Rugby Trust (@CF10RugbyTrust) November 2, 2023
Gatland always claimed Halfpenny was the best defensive full back in the world given his courage, tenacity, tackle technic and his ability to cover the back field.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the help of Welsh defence coaches Shaun Edwards, Gethin Jenkins and Mike Forshaw. Then there was Neil Jenkins – everything he has done for me and taught me has been massive,” added Leigh.
“He is the best in the world at what he does and a lot of what I have achieved in terms of kicking is down to him. Jenks was an idol of mine growing up when I watched him playing for, and I wanted to be like him.
“I’ve got to be honest, I was pretty star struck when I first met up with him at St Helen’s, Swansea, at the age of 16. He’s been incredible for me, and I’ve learned so much from him, not just goal-kicking but the work you need to put in.
“He’s supported me throughout and been huge in what I’ve been able to achieve.”
He had to fight many injury battles, but somehow always managed to return just as fit and effective as before. He puts that down to all the love and support he received from his family, and his finance, Jess.
“My family have been everything to me. My grandad used to pick me up from school and take me down to the field to practice my kicking,” he recalled.
“He would be there for hours with me, sometimes in the pitch black. He never forced me, he only ever encouraged me, and he spent ages gathering and kicking back the balls for me.
Leigh Halfpenny was outstanding on that 2013 tour to Australia.
Quite rightly named player of the series 🦁
— Jamie Phillips (@JNPhillips4) October 25, 2023
“Muy Mum and Dad have also been incredibly special. They took me to training and to games all over the place and supported me throughout my career.
“There have been some difficult times with injuries and sometimes I didn’t know If I would get back on the field. But my partner, Jess, also kept me going and kept me strong.
“When I reached 100 caps for Wales against Georgia, even though the result wasn’t what we wanted, it was a very special day because our two girls got to see me play. I have to say that Jess has been my rock throughout.”
His ‘last dance’ will be alongside two players with whom he has shared so much with Wales and the Lions, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric.
They may both be playing against him for the Baa-Baas, but they will be bound by a collective spirit as they give the Welsh public one final glimpse of their incredible talent.
“To run out alongside guys like Alun Wyn and Justin Tipuric, albeit they’ll be on the opposite side, and share the field again with those two Welsh legends again will be pretty special,” he added.
🏴 Leigh Halfpenny. Welsh Legend. pic.twitter.com/cxGOUh4Seg
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) October 25, 2023
Next week he is due to announce where his next rugby adventure will be. The good news is that he does fancy going into coaching in the not too distant future.
“I’d like to carry on playing for another couple of seasons if I can. I’ve got a contract for another season and then we’ll see what happens after that – it’s all done and I’m looking for that to be announced next week,” added Leigh.
“Coaching is something I’d like to consider in the future. I’ll be having a chat with Jenks to see if I can pick up any tips.”