If you thought Gareth Bale was the only Welsh sportsman currently inciting cries of “one-man team”, look no further than Leigh Halfpenny. After bagging the man-of-the-match award in the win over Italy, the 24-year-old Cardiff fullback then followed it up by kicking the Welsh to a credible victory against France. Now, with England the final 6 Nations challenge, ShortList finds out how he’s shaping up.
Do you prepare differently for a 6 Nations game than a club game?
Training is more intense at international level. You put more hours in. Obviously, with the best players in Wales playing for that jersey, training’s more intense in the backs, in the forwards, in the scrums, the mauls – it’s very physical.
Do you or your teammates have rivalries with English players?
You can’t afford to think of anyone apart from the man you’re directly up against. That’s who you’re looking to get one over on. England are in good form, but we have a job to do.
Is it true you were dropped from your first club for being too small?
I was. It was tough, but I knew that if I wanted to make it at the top, I’d have to get bigger to cope with the level of physicality and intensity required of me. I had to work hard on that.
How did you go about that?
A lot of heavy weights with high reps to get blood to the muscles and stretch them. Recovery shakes and nutrition are also key to getting bigger.
Did you get sick of protein shakes?
[Laughs] After a couple of weights sessions I wouldn’t want to drink a regular milkshake. The leg sessions were horrific because of the big weights I was using. For upper-body strength, the incline dumbbell bench press is a good move.
What’s the most extreme training you’ve done?
The Polish training camps prior to the last World Cup. We’d have three or four sessions a day, and those included wrestling, tug-of-war and various circuit training. It was freezing, and the rooms were basic. This meant there was nothing to do but train, bringing the squad even closer together because you have to rely on your mates to help you get through horrendous conditions like those.
What is your best tip for taking an opponent out if he’s running at full speed?
Put everything into the tackle. Try to get your head on the right side, but at times you have a split-second to think about it and the guy’s travelling at such speed you don’t have a lot of time to adjust. You have to throw your bodyweight into the tackle.
Kicking has always been a big part of your game. How long do you practise it?
I build up so by the end of the week I’m kicking after practice sessions for up to an hour. Before kicking, I try to picture a post, a lot further back from the posts in front of me, between the middle of those posts, and I aim for that. Imagining a smaller target gives you less room for error.
Do you have any tips for catching the ball from height?
The timing of the jump is crucial – you should be off the ground as the ball falls into your arms. And never take your eye off the ball, even if an opponent is hounding you – that catch can mean your team wins the game.
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