The man with the golden boot, Leigh Halfpenny was among the finest goal-kickers of his generation.
Amid an era of incredible Welsh success, the popular full-back – small in stature but big at heart – was consistently brilliant, and leaves some big shoes to fill now he’s about to hang up his international scrum-cap for good.
Halfpenny will forever be known for his excellent kicking but there was so much more to his game than that, and he played a key role in three Championship titles for Wales, including the 2012 Grand Slam.
But 2013 was his his finest year in rugby when he scooped the Player of the Championship accolade as he helped Wales secure back-to-back Guinness Six Nations titles.
The year prior, Halfpenny had cemented his spot in the full-back position previously occupied by Lee Byrne. Wales captured a third Grand Slam title in the Six Nations era, with the then 24-year-old the Championship’s top points-scorer.
And Halfpenny’s golden boot struck again in 2013, topping the scoring charts to ensure a historic defence of the Championship title.
2024 Guinness Six Nations fixtures
The Welshman’s metronomic success off the tee was pivotal in Wales’ successive titles as he tallied up 74 points during the Championship.
His kicking reliability was not the only area in which Halfpenny shone. The back-three trio of George North, Alex Cuthbert and himself joined up outstandingly to cause havoc against their opponents, scoring six tries in the Championship.
COMING BACK FROM DEFEAT
The campaign did not get off to an ideal start for Wales. Under Rob Howley’s leadership – who was put in temporary charge with Warren Gatland focused on The British & Irish Lions Tour later in the year – they were beaten 30-22 at home by Ireland.
While Halfpenny did cross for his 11th Welsh try, in addition to slotting three kicks, the defending champions were ousted by a determined Ireland performance.
But they responded in sensational fashion when they travelled across the English Channel to beat France in Paris thanks to North’s superb late try. Halfpenny successfully kicked all four of his shots at the posts and put Wales back on track.
Further away wins in Italy and Scotland ensured a grand finale, as they hosted Stuart Lancaster’s England – who were bidding for a first Grand Slam title since 2003.
What then unfolded was extraordinary. Wales beat their old foes 30-3 to win the title, in what captain Sam Warburton described as the “best moment” of his career. Howley felt the achievement was better than the previous year’s Grand Slam title.
Halfpenny slotted over all four of his kicks. It was Wales’ biggest ever win over England.
A 15-man shortlist was decided through a mixture of technical statistics and fan sentiment on social media, producing candidates more representative of public opinion.
Other names included Alessandro Zanni and Stuart Hogg – who came second and third respectively – but it was the former Toulon man who ran away with 40% of the 80,000 votes cast.
Reflecting on the recognition at the time, Halfpenny said: “It’s the icing on the cake of an exceptional year for Wales, and it is a privilege to be part of such an exceptional group of people.
“For my name to be added to the list of players who have won this award in the past is incredible and extremely humbling.”
LIONS SUCCESS DOWN UNDER
Halfpenny followed up his success in a Welsh jersey by being named on his second British & Irish Lions Tour, which took place in Australia that summer.
Player of the Championship – Classic Winners: Tommy Bowe 2010
Once more, his boot proved crucial in helping the tourists triumph for the first time in 16 years and he was named Player of the Series to boot.
The Swansea-born back’s achievements were then recognised worldwide when he was shortlisted for the IRB World Player of the Year award to cap off a truly phenomenal year for Halfpenny.