Thursday 26 April 2018

Neil Jenkins: 'Halfpenny's form is absolutely incredible'

Leigh Halfpenny of the Lions kicks a penalty during the First Test match between the Australian Wallabies and the British & Irish Lions
Leigh Halfpenny of the Lions kicks a penalty during the First Test match between the Australian Wallabies and the British & Irish Lions

Andrew Baldock

Neil Jenkins has hailed the "absolutely incredible" goalkicking performances of potential British and Irish Lions Test series hero Leigh Halfpenny.

Full-back Halfpenny will line up in Saturday's second Test against Australia as a player whose unrelenting accuracy could boot the Wallabies into oblivion.


The Lions, 1-0 up and chasing a first Test series triumph for 16 years, have lost talisman lock Paul O'Connell through injury, while England prop Alex Corbisiero is rated doubtful as he battles calf muscle trouble.


But when head coach Warren Gatland names his team tomorrow, Halfpenny's name will not only be first on the sheet in terms of positional order, he is also arguably their most likely match-winner.


The Welshman has scored 78 points on tour so far, landing 27 from a possible 29 shots at goal, and is on course to break Jenkins' Lions record of 41 points in a Test series.


"He's been absolutely incredible - his record speaks for itself," Lions kicking coach Jenkins said today.


"He averages probably under one miss per game, which is incredible. He's had an outstanding couple of years.


"We (Wales) spoke to Leigh a couple of years ago about trying to get it (goalkicking) full time for the Cardiff Blues. He was doing a lot of long-range stuff for us, but we felt moving forward the more kickers we had then the better for us, really.


"He's pushed and pushed, worked hard, managed to get it for the Blues and then took over for us in Dublin (2012) against Ireland when Rhys Priestland missed a few - and he has never looked back.


"Most kickers have got very good temperaments and the guys here on the Lions tour have incredible temperaments.


"They are happy to rock up, irrelevant of the issues surrounding them. It might be a kick to win the game, the crowd, the amount of people watching on TV, they just seem to get into that zone.


"You are trying to score the points for the team and you have got to put the work in to do that. You will have days when things don't go right, that is understandable. You can't get out of bed every day and everything goes well.


"But I certainly believe if you put the work in, you work hard throughout the week, you put yourself in a good place."


Jenkins knows all about the pressures of top-level kicking, having played a starring role when the Lions claimed an against-all-odds series victory over then world champions South Africa in 1997.


His unswerving accuracy off the tee proved the integral component of wins in Cape Town and Durban, and Halfpenny now has that huge responsibility.


"In terms of the kickers, it's a different ball-game today," added Jenkins, who scored more than 1,000 points for Wales during his Test career.


"Maybe one of the first names on the team-sheet now is your goal-kicker, so it's huge and shows how far it has come on since I started back in the early 90s.


"I was lucky back in 1997. I had (kicking coach) Dave Alred to look after me and I had never come across anyone like Dave before.


"My mother's brother had helped me a great deal when I was younger, watching videos of (Grant) Fox and (Michael) Lynagh and people like that.


"I learnt an awful lot from Dave on that tour and it just showed in terms of getting your technique right and working on it. It was just constant, really. There was no let-up."


Jenkins has worked closely with 24-year-old Halfpenny ever since his time as an academy player and he cites one of his more testing days - Scotland versus Wales in the RBS 6 Nations Championship three months ago - as also one of his most significant.


"He missed three (kicks) on the bounce at Murrayfield, which had never really happened to him before," Jenkins said.


"I said to him to just go back to what you do every day. I thought he felt the crowd a little bit for the first time, and I said 'forget the crowd, they are not there'. It was about focussing on getting through the ball.


"On his fifth kick at Murrayfield, I think it was, he nailed it and went on to hit his next seven or eight in very tough circumstances.


"I remember speaking to him after the game. I said that for me, with all his 100 per cents and everything he had done, it was his best day because of the fact he had come back from disappointment, feeling a bit of pain in terms of missing a few kicks and being under a bit of pressure."

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