Jan 28 2013
Wales star Leigh Halfpenny is set to make his Millennium Stadium return this Saturday - nine weeks after a "frightening" injury blow saw him detained overnight in hospital.
The Cardiff Blues full-back will be a key part of Wales' armoury when they launch their RBS 6 Nations title defence against Ireland in Cardiff. And the contrast could hardly be greater, given that his last appearance there ended with him being carried off and taken to University Hospital Wales for scans on a neck injury.
Halfpenny was hurt in the build-up to Australia's dramatic late try from Kurtley Beale that saw Wales agonisingly beaten 14-12. "It was pretty worrying at the time," Halfpenny said today, as Wales cranked up preparations for Ireland's visit.
He went on: "I had a dead arm for half-an-hour and I was not sure what sort of damage had been done, so the scans were pretty good news because they showed no nerves had been damaged.
"I was conscious the whole time, but not sure what had happened. I was aware of a numbness in my arm and it was frightening. The medical staff were superb and it looked worse than it turned out to be. The doctors and nurses at the hospital were brilliant. I am a bit claustrophobic and they calmed me down before the MRI scan.
"I had a few weeks off and missed games I wanted to play in, but I have played a few games this month and it has been good. I have to learn to stop tackling with my head! I tried to protect my left shoulder and ended up making it worse. I have not thought about it in the games I have played since, just throwing myself into it."
Halfpenny, who is poised to win his 40th cap this weekend, is firmly established among the world's leading full-backs at the start of a year highlighted by the British and Irish Lions' Australia tour.
And the Six Nations opener throws up an intriguing head-to-head, given that Halfpenny and Ireland full-back Rob Kearney could find themselves battling it out for the Lions Test number 15 shirt in June.
Halfpenny, though, is far more focused on success for Wales (they have lost their last seven Tests), rather than any personal accolades. "It is Wales against Ireland and if I am picked to play it is about doing a job for your country and the jersey justice, giving it everything it deserves. That is all I am worried about," he added.
"You want to gain the upper hand on your opponent to make sure you are contributing to the team - it is not about individuals, but the team. The first game in the Six Nations is always important because of the confidence a win brings, as we showed in Dublin last year. The focus is on getting a good start."