Cardiff Character: Leigh Halfpenny

Leigh’s future looks bright after impressive Welsh World Cup display

The Cardiff Blues Rubgy World Cup players. Leigh Halfpenny, far right. Copyright Huw Evans images.

Post World Cup, the eyes of Wales are still firmly on the heroic Welsh players who made it to the semi-finals in New Zealand.  Last week saw the return to the regional rugby side, Cardiff Blues, of Leigh Halfpenny, and the five other players who also starred in the Welsh side.

At just 22 years old, Leigh is one of the youngest members of the Welsh team, and he played a major part of the World Cup campaign. The team made it to a dramatic semi-final showdown against France that saw Sam Warburton sent off in a controversial decision by referee Alain Rolland. Despite losing with a one point margin, the Welsh team emerged as the heroes of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Leigh’s strong semi-final performance in the full-back position, coupled with a potential game winning kick passing a heart-breaking five inches under the posts, has resulted in Leigh and the rest of the young Welsh players attracting attention the world over.

Career path and motivations

Launching the new Cardiff Blues alternative kit, which is a fetching bright pink in colour, Leigh is commanding in his presence amongst the other players. From his amateur beginnings to senior level rugby, the Blues have given Leigh the platform by which to develop his career, and transition him into the professional game.  “Obviously it’s a huge step up, stepping from the amateur game,” says Leigh, “but I think the academy systems that we have in place develop you from a young age, and get you used to training every day, nutrition, and the weights. And things like media, obviously at the top end of the game there’s a lot of media, and we get a lot of media training back at the academy. So, it’s quite a smooth transition.”

Leigh’s rugby career started off at local amateur level, which gave him the taste for success, “I had a very good coach at junior level in Rob Steel,” explains Leigh, “who taught us just to enjoy our rugby and we were a very successful team. That success taught me to want more.” He was one of the thousands of Welsh rugby supporters who watched the Wales team go on to win the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2005 and 2008, which spurred him on to achieve success, “For me growing up watching the boys win the Grand slam in 2005 and 2008, I wanted to be a part of that. And it really motivated me to work hard, to try and get into achieve things like that.”

The loss of his Grandfather was also a massive influence on Leigh and his hunger to succeed, “I lost my granddad,” Leigh confides, “he used to take me kicking down the field and kept me going, and told me keep working and it will pay off. Without that motivation and influence, I don’t think I’d be where I am now, so all I can do is thank my family for supporting me.”

Setbacks on the road to success

However, Leigh’s career was not without its difficulties and setbacks. As with most young rugby players in today’s industry, he attempted to kick start his career by coming through one of the academy scheme’s attached to regional rugby sides. Initially, Leigh was successful in getting into the Neath-Swansea Ospreys academy side but was let go, as he says, for their own reasons.

But there was relief to come in the form of the Cardiff Blues. He joined Cardiff RFC prior to the start of the 2007–2008 season, going on to make his way up the ladder into the Blues U20 squad, and finally making his debut for the Cardiff Blues senior squad against Ulster in 2008. Leigh says of the Blues, “I’m really pleased they gave me that opportunity, and they had faith in me.”

Moving forward

The passion Leigh has for his sport comes through in his determination to do well this season for the Blues, off the back of the World Cup campaign. He says, “We’ve had success, and obviously we’re very proud of what we achieved down in New Zealand, and we just want to come back into the Blues and really drive the Blues forward into achieving success this season.”

As for what’s next, Leigh still has many goals he wants to achieve. Looking ten years into the future, a confident Leigh says, “I’ll be 32, so hopefully still be playing. Where that’ll be who knows. It’s a long way away, but hopefully I will have been very successful and have a few trophies with the blues. I’d love to win a grand slam, and my dream would be a Lion’s test jersey. There’s a lot of things still to achieve and there’s still a lot of goals I’ve set myself, so hopefully in ten years’ time I can look back and be proud.”