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Leigh Halfpenny's nightmare about to end as he finally eyes return to rugby pitch after 445 day absence

At various points over the past 445 days, Leigh Halfpenny could have been forgiven for taking issue with a famous old adage.

The saying is that nothing lasts for good, not even your troubles.

But for Halfpenny since July 3 2021, the day he sustained a major knee injury playing for Wales against Canada in Cardiff, it must have seemed as if his time away from the rugby field was never ending. Steps forward were followed by steps back, the story for most players recovering from long-term injury, with anxiety and uncertainty never far away.

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Of course, time out is a worry at any point in a player’s career.

But when you’re 33 and stuck on 96 caps for your country, with a World Cup on the horizon, it’s doubly so.

The good news for Halfpenny, the Scarlets and Wales is that Gorseinon’s finest is almost there, with the west Wales region reporting that he is not only working with their squad once again but could return to playing action sooner rather than later.

"Leigh is back in training now, so we'll see where he's at over the course of the next couple of weeks,” said head coach Dwayne Peel.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him back. He's trained really well and he's ramped up his leadership role over the last couple of weeks. I'm excited to see him because I've not had him available as a coach.

"He's worked extremely hard. Hopefully, things go smoothly over the next few weeks and, hopefully, we'll see him back on the field."

The Scarlets have Johnny McNicholl and Tom Rogers in their ranks, but the attrition rate is so high in modern-day rugby a team can never have too many options, and certainly never have too many players of Halfpenny’s quality with his SAS-standard marksmanship and reading of play that often suggests he knows what is going to happen next before his opponents actually do it,

And having played Test rugby for almost 15 years, he has developed into a leader. What is the softly spoken and unassuming Halfpenny like in such a role?

"He's quiet but he has massive experience under his belt,” said Peel.

“For us, it's things like managing the backfield and the kicking game.

"He's probably made a living out of anticipating kick space and reading a 10's body language. He's been excellent at that throughout his career. So for us, he's great in those little moments.

"He works with the youngsters around those things. Leadership doesn't always mean that you're standing up and leading. But he took a little group this morning around the back-three play. He loves that side of the game and it's great to have him back on the pitch.

"We've just literally come off the pitch now and he trained well again today. We'll see how it goes."

Halfpenny has kept busy for the past 15 months by honing his skills as a coach. Three years ago, with the likes of Justin Tipuric, James Hook and Bradley Davies, he was one of 10 players selected for the Welsh Rugby Union’s player to coach programme, an initiative which has gone from strength to strength.

He has helped out Wales U20s and, at the Scarlets, his presence is a major plus for Tom Rogers, picked for Wales twice in the summer of 2021 but since then overlooked. Both those Test outings were on the wing, but Rogers can also operate at full-back and quite looked the part when switching there after McNicholl left the field injured against the Ospreys last weekend.

The suggestion was put to Peel that the youngster couldn’t have anyone better to work with than Halfpenny. "Definitely, especially in those areas of the game. Backfield coverage is so important now with modern kicking and people trying to find space,” came the reply from the Scarlets team boss.

"From Tommy's point of view, he's a guy who could be a good asset in the 15 shirt, as well, and we saw glimpses of that on the weekend. He looked threatening on the ball. We all know he's a good runner but the other side of his game is where he probably needed to work.

Young Scarlets back-three man Tom Rogers (Huw Evans Agency)

"He's working hard on that and getting better every week in those scenarios. I think he has a way to go but that's the beauty of it: he's learning and getting better every week.

"He's a brave guy, too. Having Leigh with him is great for me."

Despite being forced to settle for a draw after a converted Ospreys try in the final seconds in the BKT United Rugby Championship’s round one clash in Llanelli, the Scarlets still had a fair bit to be encouraged by in the local derby, not least because of the way they got their act together after trailing 13-3 at one point.

They showed character, skill and no little appetite for battle.

Halfpenny’s hoped-for return in the coming weeks should add further pep to their effort, with the certainly being that Wales will be tracking his progress, too, albeit not too much should be expected. He will need time to get back up to speed.

Then again, this is Leigh Halfpenny we're talking about, and he just tends to do rugby excellence.


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