Lions Origin Story: Halfpenny, Biggar and Moriarty flying the Gorseinon flag
The international exploits of Leigh Halfpenny mean Gorseinon RFC is already firmly established on the rugby map but even putting their most famous son aside, the Swansea club can count themselves as a bona fide hotbed of British & Irish Lions talent.
Wales star Halfpenny, who hails from the same Swansea suburb from which his old junior club takes its name, was selected for the 2009 and 2013 Tours to South Africa and Australia respectively, and the 31-year-old was then joined by two fellow Gorseinon alumni in New Zealand four years ago.
Dan Biggar rose through the ranks alongside Halfpenny – his talent saw him bumped up an age group – while a few years later, St Helens-born Ross Moriarty also learned his trade in Gorseinon’s youth ranks.
Halfpenny only featured in one Test match on the 2017 Tour but he put in some impressive performances during the warm-up games – with his trusty right boot kicking the Lions to a 32-10 victory against the Maori All Blacks.
When Halfpenny, Biggar and Moriarty pulled on the famous Lions jersey down in the Southern Hemisphere, there was no shortage of interested observers bursting with pride back at the 1,200-capacity Welfare Ground.
Among them was Gorseinon coach Rob Steele.
“I coached Leigh from the age of seven and Dan from the age of 11 – I’d moved into senior rugby by the time Ross Moriarty came to the club but his coach was a man called Jonathan Roberts,” said Steele before the 2017 Tour.
“You notice their talent from the very beginning. Leigh had tremendous pace but with Dan, he had so much intelligence on the field and was always in control of situations, even back then.
“I always believe that you have to start playing at eight to learn your key rugby skills but Dan was so developed when he joined us and we had to move him up an age group straight away.
“Eventually, I also started working as a coach for Swansea and District, which meant that I was looking at players from all across the area, and that’s when I realised how good these guys were.
“Those two were part of a side that won pretty much every game – barring one or two slip-ups – and being so successful during their development paid off when you look at where they’ve got to now.”
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Gorseinon are a feeder club to Ospreys and while fly-half Biggar, 30, may have taken the intended route of graduating to Swansea RFC and then the Guinness PRO14 outfit, there were a few more twists and turns in store as his Lions team-mates made it to the top of the game.
Flanker Moriarty, 25, whose father Paul and uncle Richard were both Welsh internationals, spent time as an academy footballer at Swansea City before fully committing to rugby and, despite joining the Ospreys academy, he eventually moved across the border to Hartpury College and then Gloucester Rugby before eventually returning to Wales with the Dragons in 2017.
Then comes the story of full-back Halfpenny, whose spells with Cardiff RFC, Cardiff Blues, Toulon and Scarlets came after a big rejection following his Gorseinon graduation.
Steele said: “Leigh was actually turned down by Ospreys at the age of 16.
“The following week, Cardiff took him and Ospreys actually wrote a letter to him later on to apologise for their decision.”
A STORIED HISTORY
Gorseinon’s first team play in WRU Division One West – two tiers below the Welsh Premier Division – and they boast a hearty history of players that have gone on to wear a Wales shirt.
Long before Halfpenny, Biggar and Moriarty made their international bows, Norman Gale – who captained his country on two occasions – Gwyn Francis, Tom Day, Lewis Jones, Len Blyth and Onllwyn Brace all played for Wales.
Eli Walker and Sam Davies also came through the ranks at Gorseinon, as did Keelan Giles.
And coach Steele was certain that all eyes at Gorseinon were glued to how the club’s triumvirate of Lions fared in New Zealand.
“The kids at the club all love it that there have been so many international players that have played here and they’re all really proud of it,” he added.
“Some of the guys still get involved here as well. Leigh lives around the corner from me and he’s always happy to come in and present his Wales shirts to us.”