Wales v South Africa: Leigh Halfpenny stays humble despite winning ‘Oscar’

 

As of Monday, Leigh Halfpenny is officially the world’s greatest rugby player, duly crowned at the sport’s equivalent of the Oscars in Paris. He is also quite possibly the most unassuming.

There is almost that same haunted look in his eyes that became Jonny Wilkinson’s trademark when he was at his obsessive, brilliant best. Halfpenny is a Wilkinson mark II: a quiet figure, a kicking machine, almost a training addict keen to wring out every ounce of talent from his relatively diminutive frame.

The Wales captain, Sam Warburton, summed up nicely how Halfpenny works when he looked back on the second British and Irish Lions Test defeat to Australia, a game the Lions had a chance to win with a kick from halfway. For once Halfpenny fell short.

Warburton recalled: “He would have been gutted for days afterwards. He’s very proud and takes great pride in what he does, especially his kicking. He felt like it was his fault but not at all. Sometimes as captain I’ll help him, put an arm around him. I know him quite well so I know when to approach him and when to leave him alone.”

Halfpenny will once again be Wales’ dependable full-back under the aerial volley that South Africa will rain down on him today: in defence, on the break and, most importantly, with his goal-kicking.

The plaudits that have come the 24-year-old’s way do not sit comfortably on his shoulders and, such is his way, he is keen to pass on the credit for his latest honour to those around him.

“Obviously it was a huge honour,” Halfpenny said. “You look at the previous winners and you realise how special the award is. I’d just like to say a huge thanks to my team-mates, my coaches, the guys I work day in, day out with and have been involved with over the years, but also my friends and family that have supported me along the way. Without them, there’s no way I would have been stood there receiving that award.

“I’m just doing my job for my team. I’m just doing what’s expected of me when I take that field. So I don’t like to be individualised.”

No one expects more of Halfpenny than the player himself, who has changed markedly from the 19-year-old that made his debut against South Africa five years ago, a game that Wales went on to lose 15-20.

He insists he is still the same rugby player from Gorseinon, an enclave just six miles north-west of Swansea city centre, that he ever was.

Despite the Grand Slams, Lions tour victories and playing accolades, Halfpenny insists he has not changed. He still follows the same ethos of what he calls “just keeping my head down”.

But surely his rugby Oscar increases the expectation for him to live up to the mantle of being the world’s best player? “No, not at all,” he insisted. “I still see myself as the same player as I always was. I don’t see myself any different.

“I’m just trying to work hard, looking at areas of my game to improve. You never stop learning and that’s what I’m trying to do, keep learning as a player, and keep working hard.”

It is frightening to think that Halfpenny is still a good few years off his peak. But the selfless player won’t be thinking too selfishly, instead focusing on the next task in hand, helping Wales to a first victory over a southern hemisphere side in five years.

“We really need to put a statement out this autumn and start beating the southern-hemisphere teams,” he said. On an individual level, Halfpenny has done that with his oval-ball Oscar. Wales, on the other hand, have not.

Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, S Williams, L Williams; R Priestland, M Phillips; G Jenkins, R Hibbard, A Jones, B Davies, A W Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (c), T Faletau. Replacements: K Owens, P James, S Andrews, L Charteris, J Tipuric, L Williams, J Hook, A Beck.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing