Monday 11 December 2017

Flawless Halfpenny takes inspiration from past feats of kicking king Jenkins

Gavin Mairs

Leigh Halfpenny revealed that the inspiration behind his stunning place-kicking display in the 69-17 victory against Western Force was the man who kicked the Lions to their last tour victory.

Wales fly-half Neil Jenkins, the Lions kicking coach on this tour, spearheaded the 2-1 series victory against South Africa in 1997 by kicking a total of 41 points while playing out of position at full-back.

That achievement, along with similar feats from Jonny Wilkinson and Dan Carter, stoked Halfpenny's desire to make his mark on a Lions tour in such spectacular fashion.

Halfpenny has never lacked drive – as a child, he used to spend hours fine-tuning his kicking technique – and now he has the class to back it up.

Jenkins would have been proud of the 24-year-old's kicking performance yesterday as he landed all 11 attempts at goal – including six from the touchline – to give him a personal haul of 24 points.

"It's been a huge dream of mine (to kick for the Lions) and I would never have thought I would be doing it," Halfpenny said. "But I love every second of it, I always enjoyed goal-kicking as a kid and I've tried to work hard at it.

"You dream of it and watch the likes of Neil Jenkins and Jonny Wilkinson, Dan Carter and you want to be like that. That's how I always felt and to have kicked for the Lions, to pull on that jersey is just a real special feeling."

Lions head coach Warren Gatland revealed that it was Jenkins who decided to hand the kicking duties to Halfpenny rather than out-half Jonathan Sexton.

"We've got one of the best kicking coaches in the world out here with us," Gatland said. "I left it in Jenks' hands to make the call. He felt Jonny (Sexton) had a few kicks in Hong Kong, and it was a chance for Leigh to step up tonight.

"There were a lot of pretty tough kicks. Jonny was a bit disappointed he wasn't kicking tonight and both of them would equally have done a good job. When it comes to it, goal-kicking is a hugely important factor in international rugby and you have got to nail your kicks."

Given the major role Jenkins has had in Halfpenny's development, his presence on the touchline yesterday was reassuring for the Cardiff Blues full-back, who looks likely to start for the Test side.

"I can't think of a better guy to have teaching me and having alongside me in games and in training," Halfpenny said.

Having had his Lions tour in 2009 cruelly cut short by injury after just one game, Halfpenny said his return to the red shirt brought the best of out him. It seems he is determined to make every second count to erase the pain of returning early from South Africa.

"It's up there with the best I've kicked," Halfpenny said. "I've had some games in which I've had 100pc but not as many as that. I got the easy bit. The boys scoring the tries and things are doing all the hard work.

"For me it's about taking each kick at a time. I try to make a spot between the posts (that I aim at) and it seems a lot wider.

"Ever since I was on the plane on the way home from South Africa, I've been dreaming of this moment of pulling on a Lions jersey again. I've had the opportunity tonight and it was a pretty special feeling." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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