Leigh Halfpenny

Leigh Halfpenny of Wales. Pic: Getty Images

Leigh Halfpenny Was Best In Class, Says Wales Coach Warren Gatland

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By Paul Jones

Leigh Halfpenny has been described as the best defensive full-back in the world by Warren Gatland after the Wales star announced his retirement from Test rugby.

Gatland – who took Halfpenny to the World Cup 15 years after first capping him as a teenager – paid a glowing tribute to the 34-year-old who has said he will leave the international game after Wales’ match against the Barbarians on November 4 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

Wales head coach Gatland said: “Leigh has had a fantastic career for Wales, firstly on the wing and then at 15 where he has been brilliant – probably the best defensive full-back in the world and a tremendous goal kicker.

“He’s had his fair share of injury challenges over the years but has never let that hold him back.

“If you are talking about role models in professional rugby, I don’t think you could find someone that works harder than Leigh in terms of how he prepares.

“The analysis, training and recovery he has done time and again has been really impressive, he is the ultimate professional.”

Halfpenny (101 caps) leaves as one of a select number of Wales men’s players to have reached a century of caps, sitting seventh on the all-time list.

The 34-year-old also made four Test appearances for the British & Irish Lions across the 2013 and 2017 tours, being named player of the series in 2013 when beating Australia.

In an international career spanning 15 years, Halfpenny is third on the all-time list of men’s points scorers for Wales with 801, behind Neil Jenkins (1,049) and Stephen Jones (917), and will be hoping to add to that tally in his final outing in a red jersey against the Barbarians.

Wales were knocked out by Argentina at the quarter-final stage of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, losing 29-17 to the Pumas in Marseille.

Announcing the decision on social media, Halfpenny said: “Having had time to reflect after the Rugby World Cup campaign, it’s with a heavy heart that I’ve decided that it’s time for me to step away from international rugby.

“The decision hasn’t been easy, but the time feels right for me now and I look forward to running out one last time against the Barbarians next week at home.

“It’s been such a huge honour and privilege to put on the Welsh jersey and represent my country over the past 15 years. It was a dream as a kid growing up playing for Gorseinon to one day play for Wales and I’ve made the most incredible memories.

“There’s been ups and downs but I will look back on my international career with immense pride, there’s no better feeling than running out to a full Principality Stadium wearing the Welsh jersey and singing the national anthem.

“I’m going to miss it, but I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and to every single person who has helped me along the way.

“It’s been unbelievable to play with such special people over the years and I will cherish the friendships I’ve made. I’m excited about this group of players coming through for Wales and what they can achieve in the future. I’m looking forward to supporting the boys from the stands.

“Whilst I’ll be moving on from the international game, I’m excited about the next chapter as a player in this game which has given me so much and look forward to sharing details on my club future soon. Diolch.”

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