The future’s bright for Leigh

Leigh Halfpenny may have had his tour dream ended prematurely this week but the 20-year-old has certainly enjoyed his limited experience as a Lion. [more]

The future’s bright for Leigh

Leigh Halfpenny may have had his tour dream ended prematurely this week but the 20-year-old has certainly enjoyed his limited experience as a Lion.

Halfpenny capped a remarkable first season in the professional game with a call up to Ian McGeechan’s original 37-man touring party but was then struck by injury prior to departure.

The Cardiff Blues and Wales wing suffered damage to his quad muscle before the Lions left for South Africa and was therefore forced to stay at home for intensive rehabilitation while the remainder of the squad set off for their 10-match tour of the Republic.

Halfpenny worked hard to recover quickly from the initial setback and joined up with his team-mates in time for the third game of the tour against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Unfortunately for Halfpenny, and for the Lions coaching staff and supporters, that would be his one and only appearance in Lions colours. His tour officially came to an end on Wednesday morning when it was confirmed that injury had reared its ugly head once more.

"When I got the news, obviously I was very disappointed to be leaving early from such a superb tour," said Halfpenny, following the confirmation that he would not be playing any further part in his first Lions adventure.

"I’ve been so glad I’ve been a part of it, even though all I’ve had is a week or two with the party.

"It’s been a superb experience and a lot of learning has been done to ensure the future is bright for me, hopefully."

At the top of the list for that bright future is another Lions tour and a Lions Test cap. The next opportunity for that to arise is in 2013 when the Lions travel to Australia to take on the Wallabies and Halfpenny would love to be there.

"That’ll be the ultimate goal, to get on the next Lions tour to Australia and possibly get that Test jersey. But there’ll be a lot of work to be done before that.

"I’ll just go back now, have some time off and look ahead to next season. I’ll train hard and make sure I get my leg right so that it doesn’t happen again.

"It’s a reoccurrence of the previous injury but it’s a bit lower down this time because it’s been over compensating for the still injured part of the upper muscle. The scan has come back and shown that it’s a grade two tear and it’s going to take about four to six weeks to heal. I don’t want it to become a reoccurring problem otherwise my place with the Blues could be in jeopardy."

Injury meant Leigh Halfpenny played just once for the 2009 Lions

He may only have been involved in a single Lions fixture but Halfpenny will take plenty of happy memories back home with him when he returns to Wales this Monday.

Halfpenny has been impressed with what he has seen so far on tour and can fully understand why the Lions are held in such high regard by so many in the game.

"It’s been an amazing experience being involved as I have been with the 2009 Lions, the team spirit is fantastic. It’s just a great shame that I couldn’t see it to the end but I wish the lads well for the build up to the Tests.

"It’s great to have come on a tour like this, meeting great new guys from the different countries. When I arrived they were so happy to see me. When I got back they welcomed me with open arms. Everyone came up and shook my hand. I was a bit behind on the calls but the coaching staff and players went through everything with me and made sure I was up to date with everything.

"They’re a superb bunch of boys and I’m just proud to be a part of it and hopefully we can stay in touch."

Halfpenny himself can hardly believe how far he has come in the last 12 months, moving from the Blues Academy to a first Welsh cap and an even more unexpected, albeit short, adventure with the Lions.

It may not have sunk in quite yet but Halfpenny will surely soon become aware of the extent of his remarkable rise to the top. And when it does, there’ll be no doubt in his mind that his experiences as a Lion will sit at the very top of an incredible list of achievements.

"When I go home now to my family and have a bit of time off from rugby, it’ll be great to look back on everything and it’ll all sink in. It’s been incredible to think that I was aiming to get one or two games for the Blues. It just shows what rugby can do for people. It’s certainly made me a better person.

"The Lions is everything. It’s a rugby player’s dream. Apparently, for the Test matches that’s when all the fans come out and I’m going to be a bit disappointed to miss out on that. It’s the pinnacle of a rugby player’s career and the fact that I’ve done it in my first professional season is amazing."

While he admits there will be plenty of time to look back this summer, Halfpenny does not intend to rest on his laurels and remain content with his early success. Instead, Halfpenny’s focus is on getting fit and adding to his growing reputation with the Blues. The 2013 Lions may be the ultimate goal but, for the time being at least, it can wait.

"As soon as I go back, I’ll be meeting up with the Blues physios to make sure we’ve got everything in place and everything planned out. Next season’s going to be massive. We’ve got so much to achieve again and I hope to be a part of it."

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