Leigh Halfpenny has ‘an exciting challenge’ awaiting him after Wales retirement
Leigh Halfpenny looks set to continue his rugby career in the southern hemisphere after he makes a final Wales appearance on Saturday.
The Wales full-back, who has won 101 caps, will bow out of international rugby following the Barbarians’ Principality Stadium visit.
And New Zealand Super Rugby heavyweights Crusaders could be his next port of call.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland, after naming his team to face the Barbarians, dismissed speculation linking 34-year-old Halfpenny with a move to England or Japan, while confirming a southern hemisphere switch that would undoubtedly enhance his playing and coaching CV.
“Hopefully, he has got a big future ahead of him – it is an exciting challenge that he has been offered,” Gatland said.
“He spoke to me a number of weeks ago about where he was going to go. The speculation about going to England and Japan was all rubbish.
“I just said that it would be brilliant for him in terms of what he wants to do next and his CV, having played in France and won championships there, having been successful for Wales and having a chance to go to the southern hemisphere as well.
“And maybe after that experience, coming back and doing some kicking and some skills work and maybe following a Neil Jenkins (Wales skills and kicking specialist) path in terms of getting into the coaching aspect.
“He has been one of those people who have set incredible standards and is a great example for younger players coming through in terms of that.
“He is not the biggest man in the world, but he has always given 100 per cent for that jersey and he is a proud Welshman.”
Jac Morgan will captain a Wales XV containing 12 Rugby World Cup squad members, including four who started the quarter-final defeat against Argentina last month in Morgan, centre George North, lock Adam Beard and number eight Aaron Wainwright.
Dragons prop Lloyd Fairbrother, 31, makes a first Wales start in the non-cap encounter, with wing Tom Rogers and lock Ben Carter also gaining opportunities.
Fairbrother starts in the tighthead position, where Gatland was without the services of France-based pair Tomos Francis and Henry Thomas, Harlequins forward Dillon Lewis, plus injured duo Keiron Assiratti and Leon Brown.
Assiratti was ruled out by an ankle injury, while Brown has a calf muscle problem, meaning call-ups for Fairbrother and Scarlets prop Harri O’Connor, who is among the replacements.
The Principality Stadium encounter is being staged to pay tribute to Wales’ record cap holder Alun Wyn Jones. He retired from Test rugby in May after making 158 Test match appearances for his country.
Its scheduling, though, has been criticised, with all four Welsh regions being in United Rugby Championship action this weekend, while a sizeable contingent of players based outside Wales– Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins and Will Rowlands among them – are not available.
Gatland added: “I can understand completely and I understand the issues involved in that. We are conscious of that, and that is why I was doing everything I could to support the regions by only picking 23 players (in his squad).
“We could, as would have been in our normal situation, picked 33 or 34, but that would have taken another nine players out of the regions in terms of them being available for those teams.
“I understand, but we have come out of a couple of pretty tough years with Covid and everyone is talking about the funding and how everyone is finding that difficult.
“This game is definitely about generating some more revenue, and for us there is an opportunity without players outside of Wales for people to put down a marker in terms of being involved in the Six Nations.”
While Gatland says Wales have “kind of drawn a line” under their World Cup campaign, he revealed that he has asked Wales’ medical staff to contact World Rugby regarding consistency of players being removed for head injury assessments.
“I’ve asked my medical staff to go back to World Rugby to give me some clarity on an incident like the Nick Tompkins one against Argentina, which wasn’t a penalty or a yellow card but he still had to come off in that situation for a HIA,” he said.
“I need to know then in that situation why didn’t (South Africa centre) Jesse Kriel have to come off for a HIA or (New Zealand forward) Ardie Savea (in the World Cup final)?”
Kriel was hit head-high by New Zealand captain Sam Cane, who was sent off, while Savea was on the receiving end of a challenge from yellow-carded Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi.
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