Warren Gatland hails Leigh Halfpenny’s professionalism ahead of 100th Wales cap
Wales boss Warren Gatland has hailed Leigh Halfpenny as “the ultimate professional” ahead of him joining rugby union’s 100-cap club.
Halfpenny will reach three figures for Wales in Saturday’s opening World Cup warm-up game against England at the Principality Stadium.
Only eight other Wales players have clocked up a century of caps, with Halfpenny just the fifth back after Stephen Jones, Gareth Thomas, George North and Dan Biggar.
He made his Wales debut as a teenager against South Africa 15 years ago, while he has had to overcome a number of injury setbacks that meant lengthy absences from the game.
“If you are talking about role models as a professional, you could not get a harder worker than Leigh Halfpenny in terms of how he prepares,” Gatland said.
“The analysis, training and recovery, he is the ultimate professional. He started his career on the wing and then has been brilliant as a positional 15.
“He is a tremendous goalkicker and is probably still the best defensive full-back in the world. It’s a great honour for him and I am delighted for him.”
Wales assistant coach Jonathan Thomas was still playing when Halfpenny first arrived on the international scene, and he added: “The big thing when he first came in was how relentless he was in putting the extra hours in on the training field – after everyone else had finished – around his kicking, his high-ball stuff and his contact work.
“The contact-skill side of the back-three is much more important now, but 15 years ago it wasn’t high on the job description for back-three players. Even back then he was putting a huge amount of work in around his high-ball stuff and all of that.
“He has been the ultimate Welshman, the ultimate team man. I’ve got three kids and if you want to give them any anecdotes of what to look for, what to be like, it’s Leigh Halfpenny.”
While Halfpenny will be centre of attention in front an anticipated 65,000 crowd, considerable interest also surrounds some new faces.
Gatland has handed out Test debuts to centre Max Llewellyn, plus Cardiff props Corey Domachowski and Keiron Assiratti as the World Cup countdown continues.
And there is also an opportunity for 22-year-old Scarlets fly-half Sam Costelow, who won the first of his two caps last autumn, in a team led by first-time skipper Jac Morgan.
Gatland added: “He (Costelow) gets the ball through his hands really well and we’ve been impressed with his ability to the line when he becomes a running threat.
“He is brave and doesn’t take a backwards step defensively and he has spoken well when he presents to the group and shown some leadership skills.
“Max has impressed in training with the lines he is running. I’ve been really pleased with how he has started to step up and how vocal he has been.
“That is one of the big focus areas for this squad, how important your voice is, particularly under fatigue.
“I’ve seen a huge improvement in him and he has built some confidence. It’s not just the physical side, though. He is also a good passer of the ball and he can hopefully put us outside in space.”
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