|Location: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Dated: saturday july 3 Start: 3:00 p.m. BST|
|Blanket: Live on BBC Two Wales, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru; Highlights on S4C.|
The quiet man of Welsh rugby will have his moment in the spotlight on Saturday as he becomes the last centurion of Welsh rugby.
Everywhere you go, a similar message about Leigh Halfpenny echoes. A “true professional” and a “shining example” for other players.
The shy winger who burst onto the international stage as a teenager in 2008 will now join a select few in his 100th international game on Saturday when he plays for Wales against Canada.
It will be a small club that he joins when he completes a century of international appearances for Wales and the British and Irish Lions.
An eighth exclusive member after Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams, Gareth Thomas, George North and Adam Jones.
The recognizable melee cap and foolproof boot have become trademarks of Halfpenny, also defining images of Welsh success over the past decade.
He is also a man who speaks on the ground. Calm demeanor off the pitch but a fearless nature saw Warren Gatland call him the best defensive back in the world. Once deemed too small for professional rugby, Halfpenny has proven its skeptics wrong.
â€œOnce you’ve crossed that white line, you’re in practice or play mode,â€ Halfpenny said.
â€œWe’re all competitive and love to play the game. We want to be successful, so once you’re in that mode, it brings out everything you need to be able to contribute to the team, whether it’s fulfill your role or be physical. “
It’s a formula that allowed the full-back to score three numbers, 96 internationals for Wales and four Tests for the British and Irish Lions.
â€œIt’s beyond my wildest dreams,â€ Halfpenny said.
â€œAs a child I had the dream of playing for Wales and when I played my first match it came true.
“It’s hard to think it was 2008, I felt like I was running out of my first game against South Africa yesterday.
â€œNow we are here 13 years later. I am grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me and it has been special.
â€œYou never take the selection for granted and I never thought I would run out of time for my 100th international.
â€œEvery time you put on this jersey it is a huge honor and privilege. I am grateful to the people who have helped me through the process.
â€œThere is so much to mention but I want to thank the coaches, especially at the international level.
â€œGats (Warren Gatland) brought me into the squad and gave me my first chance and more recently Wayne (Pivac) showed his confidence in me.
â€œTo all of the backroom staff, teammates, friends and family who have helped me, it has been amazing. And my partner Jess and my daughter Lily and all the fans.
“Without all of them this wouldn’t be possible, I wouldn’t be here today in this position.”
Halfpenny, now 32, will be able to celebrate with friends and family with 8,200 fans allowed to return to the Principality’s stadium to watch Wales for the first time since February 2020.
â€œI feel extremely lucky to be able to have my family there,â€ added Halfpenny.
â€œThey’re all coming, including my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We’ve had about 18-20 tickets.
“It has been a difficult but extremely exciting year to see the fans return to the stadium. I’m sure the 8,000 will make the hall feel full.”
One family member in attendance will be his grandfather Malcolm who helped Halfpenny graduate from Gorseinon rugby pitches to become one of the most metronomic kickers the game has ever seen.
â€œI can’t thank him enough for all the support and advice he gave me growing up as a kid,â€ added Halfpenny.
â€œHe played a huge role in helping me practice my goal kicks.
â€œHe picked me up from school and took me to the field where I worked with him for hours of training.
“We had an amazing time together and he will be there on Saturday which will be special because he was there for my first selection.”
The coaching stick was taken on by Wales kicking legend Neil Jenkins.
â€œMy grandfather was a big part of my career and took me as far as I could with the kicks until I joined the academy system and bonded with Jenks,â€ Halfpenny added. .
“I was extremely lucky to work with one of the best kickers ever, who guided me. He started working with me when I was 15 or 16 and helped me so much.”
Halfpenny’s stats and career achievements are impressive with 827 points in 99 international matches. Only third in Wales all-time points, scoring Jenkins and Stephen Jones.
He was part of a Wales squad that won two Grand Slam titles and four Six Nations titles and reached two World Cup semi-finals.
After appearing on three British and Irish Lions tours, his highlight was his man-of-the-series performance against Australia in 2013, a year he finished second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, behind the Wimbledon tennis champion Andy Murray.
His strengths at club include being part of the Cardiff Blues team that won the Anglo-Welsh Cup and Challenge Cup, and he propelled Toulon to Champions Cup victory in 2015.
So, among all of this, what does he consider his highlight?
“This must be my first selection for Wales,” he added.
â€œIt was a childhood dream to play for my country and I scored my first try against Canada on my second test playing on the right wing.
â€œI started with the Cardiff Blues that season, got called up to the senior squad, played a few games and got called up for Wales which was amazing.
â€œThen being selected for the Lions at the end of this season was something I could never have dreamed of. Unfortunately, I got injured, but it gave me a taste of what Lions are like.
â€œIt motivated me to do it again, so going on the 2013 Australia tour and playing three tests and winning the series was amazing.
â€œIt was a special tour and we made lifelong friendships. Also doing three Lions tours with 2017 is something I couldn’t have dreamed of. It’s something I still pinch myself.
â€œWinning the 2012 Grand Slam with Wales was special, and then we backed it in 2013. It wasn’t a Grand Slam but still a Six Nations title.â€
It was not all easy. Halfpenny has suffered his fair share of concussion issues, but it was a serious knee issue that ruled him out of the 2015 World Cup, which he remembers most clearly.
“I’ve had a few injuries, but if I look back, the biggest injury I’ve had is probably the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury in 2015 just before the World Cup,” he said. added.
â€œIt was particularly difficult to deal with in terms of rehab time. It was difficult, there are times when you don’t know if you’re going to come back the same way. You have these doubts, but try to stay positive and focused on what you can control.
â€œYou keep working to get back to where you were. I had the support of friends, family and the medical team to get me back, but it was still one of the most difficult times of me. my career.”
Halfpenny has been through hardship and is not over yet. Perhaps 100 caps in Wales and the 2023 World Cup in France remain possible milestones.
“It feels like there is a lot more in the tank,” he added.
â€œMy body feels great and I love my rugby. I’m enjoying it so I hope there will be a lot more.
“It’s an exciting few years leading up to the World Cup, and this campaign we have five new caps in the squad who will play for Wales for the first time. I’m delighted to be racing with them on Saturday.”