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Leigh Halfpenny on why Wales vs Barbarians will be so special

By PA
TOULON, FRANCE - OCTOBER 10: Leigh Halfpenny catches the ball during the Wales training session held at Felix Mayol Stadium on October 10, 2023 in Toulon, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Leigh Halfpenny expects a “pretty special” Wales send-off on Saturday while hoping to continue playing for another two seasons.

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Halfpenny announced his decision to retire from international duty following Wales’ exit from the recent Rugby World Cup and will make his final appearance in the red jersey against the Barbarians in Cardiff.

But the 34-year-old is set to prolong his career, with Japan considered to be the most likely destination ahead of an official announcement next week.

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“It’s all done,” Halfpenny said ahead of his Millennium Stadium farewell.

“I’ve got a contract for another season and then we’ll see what happens after that. I’m looking for that to be announced next week.”

Halfpenny won 101 caps for Wales – the Barbarians game, which is being staged to pay tribute to the country’s record cap holder Alun Wyn Jones, is uncapped – and scored 801 points after making his debut at the age of 19 against South Africa in November 2008.

He made four Test appearances for the Lions across the 2013 and 2017 tours, although he was also selected in 2009 before injury cut short his involvement.

Halfpenny was named player of the series in 2013, helping the Lions to a 2-1 series victory in Australia.

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He said: “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’ve got a few friends and family coming along, and I’m looking forward to going out one last time.

“To run out alongside guys like Alun and Justin Tipuric, albeit they’ll be on the opposite side, and share the field with those two greats of the game and Welsh legends again will be pretty special.”

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Halfpenny is third on the all-time list of men’s points scorers for Wales, behind Neil Jenkins (1,049) and Stephen Jones (917).

He says he grew up in the Swansea suburb of Gorseinon determined to emulate outside-half Jenkins, hero of the Lions’ 1997 series victory in South Africa.

Halfpenny said: “Jenks was an idol for me, watching him play and kick for Wales. He made me want to be like him kicking for Wales.

“I just went down the field and put the practice in. That was my dream, to play and kick for Wales.

“I’ve got to be honest, I was pretty star-struck when I met up with him at St Helen’s (the home ground of Swansea RFC) at the age of 16, and he’s been incredible for me.

“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.”

Halfpenny also wants to follow Jenkins into coaching, adding: “It’s something that I would like to do once I hang up the boots.

“I will be having a chat with him and picking up any tips I can. He’s one of the best in the world and to learn from him has been pretty special.”

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Shaylen 2 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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