Tag: Leigh Halfpenny

Six Nations: Wales 23-16 Ireland

Joe Schmidt has is braced for sleepless nights as he searches for “marginal gains” in the wake of their 23-16 loss to Wales.

The Ireland boss has never shied away from his status as a rugby scholar, but being driven to insomnia by missing out on an Six Nations Grand Slam could be a first. Wales coach Warren Gatland revealed victory would mean he would not struggle to drag himself out of bed – before Schmidt explained how defeat will just drive him deeper into his already supremely-detailed analysis.

“I’ll struggle to go to bed to be honest,” said Schmidt about how he copes with defeat. “I’ll look at the game, I’ll think about the what-ifs and the maybes, because I think there were a fair few what-ifs and maybes.

“I’ll look at the last lineout drive, I’ll look at the scrum, I’ll look at the 22 and the pressure and how close we got to getting over the line, and the small margins and marginal gains that if you manage to do that then you potentially change the result.

“I felt at 20-16 that we were back in the game, we were inside a score away from them, and I felt we attacked pretty positively right from the restart, got up to halfway and then unfortunately gave them a penalty that allowed them to go further in front. That was really disappointed and further reflected our endeavour but not our accuracy and our performance.”

Scott Williams’ second-half try floored Ireland, who dominated territory and possession but could find no route through Wales’ resolute defence. Ireland did claim a penalty try, but were made to pay for a rudderless first 20 minutes. Schmidt’s side can still retain their title, but must now rely on a points-difference triumph, just like last season.

England scaled the Six Nations table with 25-13 victory over Scotland at Twickenham, although the top three teams all have six points going into the final round. Ireland must now hope to better England and Wales’ points-difference tally as well as seeing off Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Wales boss Gatland conceded victory would allow him to avoid the depths of depression that follow Test match defeats. “I’ve been through the other side of things on a number of occasions when we’ve lost key games when we’ve been in front through critical moments,” said Gatland. “As coaches it means a lot to us.

“When you suffer a loss the next three or four days are a struggle, even in terms of getting out of bed sometimes. Emotionally it just shows we were definitely with the players in knowing how important it was today to get a result and a victory.

“The crowd were amazing, you couldn’t ask for anything more from a Test match; it had everything.”

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: France 13-20 Wales

Wales kept alive their Six Nations title hopes with a hard-earned 20-13 victory against France in Paris.

Leigh Halfpenny kicked two penalties as Wales edged a tight first half 6-3, but the game burst into life after an hour.

Dan Biggar crossed for a slick Welsh score only for France to hit back with Brice Dulin’s try in the corner.

Another Halfpenny penalty eased Welsh nerves as they sealed a fourth straight win over France for the first time since 1957.

Having lost to England on the opening weekend, Wales knew only a win would suffice for them to have a chance of claiming a fifth championship in 11 seasons.

And following their latest Parisian triumph – a fifth win in nine visits to Stade de France – they host Ireland on 14 March with their title dreams intact.

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said beforehand they would be on “red alert” defensively, wary of a French side they expected to adopt a more expansive approach than in previous matches.

The omission of juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud did not hinder their physicality, however, as Yoann Huget set the tone for a confrontational start with a thumping tackle on opposing wing Liam Williams.

Wales centre Jamie Roberts was prominent as a battering ram in midfield, and the away side’s forays into French territory were rewarded as two Halfpenny penalties either side of one from Camille Lopez put Wales 6-3 up.

Genuine scoring opportunities were at a premium, although France thought they had the opening try after half an hour, only for Huget’s touchdown to be disallowed for a forward pass.

Wales then threatened as George North galloped into the French 22 but, after that period of pressure yielded no points, the visitors could count themselves fortunate to lead at half-time as Lopez missed two penalties.

The fly-half redeemed himself with a penalty early in the second half but Halfpenny’s third soon restored Wales’ lead.

After an hour of attrition, Warren Gatland’s side extended their advantage with a stylish try.

Scrum-half Rhys Webb made the initial sniping break before passing to flanker Dan Lydiate, whose deft sleight of hand allowed Biggar to scamper over in the corner.

It took only seven minutes for France to strike back, their forwards pounding the Welsh line before the ball was spread wide for Dulin to squeeze over for a first French try against Wales since 2011.

Halfpenny soothed fraying Welsh nerves with another penalty, before the visitors had to withstand a late flurry of French pressure to secure a memorable victory.

Read more at BBC Sport

Six Nations: Scotland 23-26 Wales

Tries from Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies guided Wales to a 26-23 win over Scotland in the Six Nations at Murrayfield.

Nine days after being silenced on home soil by England, the dragon rediscovered its roar to an extent as tries by scrum-half Webb and Jonathan Davies consigned Scotland to a second Six Nations defeat in a row. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who delivered an immaculate performance in attack and defence, kicked 16 points, while Scotland replied through a breakaway Stuart Hogg score and substitute lock Jim Hamilton’s late touchdown, plus three Greig Laidlaw penalties and a conversion, and a Finn Russell conversion.

The Scots again showed obvious signs of their improvement under coach Vern Cotter, yet Wales looked a more dangerous team with ball in hand and possessed outstanding runners in Webb, Davies and Halfpenny. Wales, though, still have to do it the hard way if they have any realistic aspirations of Six Nations silverware.

Sam Warburton’s men know they cannot afford another defeat, and their next two games are against France in Paris and at home to reigning Six Nations champions Ireland. For Scotland, it is far from a case of going back to the drawing board, as they again displayed some high-class rugby to confirm a feelgood factor that has surrounded them since Cotter took charge last year.

Both sides showed two changes from contrasting opening round Six Nations defeats as they faced a make-or-break game. Sean Lamont replaced injured Scotland wing Tommy Seymour and prop Geoff Cross took over from Euan Murray, who does not play on Sundays for religious reasons. Wales, meanwhile, opted to rest powerful wing George North, who took took two heavy blows to his head during the 21-16 defeat against England last week, so Liam Williams deputised, with Ospreys forward Aaron Jarvis replacing concussed tighthead prop Samson Lee.

And the visitors made a bright start, moving deep into Scottish territory through some precise phase-play. Halfpenny opened their account with a short-range penalty after six minutes. Wales, though, pressed the self-destruct button just three minutes later when Scotland lock Richie Gray stole turnover possession 10 metres inside his own half, and Hogg outsprinted a shell-shocked Welsh blindside defence to claim an opportunist try that Laidlaw converted.

Scotland should have punished Wales again shortly afterwards when Russell broke with menace, but centre Alex Dunbar’s pass failed to find his midfield partner Mark Bennett and a glorious chance went astray. A Laidlaw penalty then put Scotland 10-3 ahead, but that strike was quickly cancelled out by Halfpenny’s second successful kick as Wales cut their arrears at the end of a breathless opening quarter.

Wales continued to look dangerous with ball in hand, and it looked as though Halfpenny would complete his penalty hat-trick from inside Scotland’s 22, but skipper Warburton opted for a kick to the corner and an attacking lineout instead, only for his team to then be penalised. There was no obvious pattern to the match, but Wales gained a numerical advantage nine minutes before half-time when Russell received a yellow card after a mid-air challenge on his opposite number Dan Biggar.

And Scotland were punished almost immediately as Wales launched a flowing attack highlighted by Davies’ surging run, before Webb collected Williams’ inside pass and posted his second try in successive Six Nations games this season. Halfpenny landed the touchline conversion attempt, taking Wales into a 16-10 lead, but the numbers were then evened out when Davies saw yellow for a poor tackle on Scotland number eight Johnnie Beattie.

And that was a cue for Scotland to put Wales on the back foot as half-time approached, with the visitors requiring some frantic last-ditch defending to preserve their advantage and troop off six points clear at the break. Scotland immediately cut the gap after Russell returned through another Laidlaw penalty when Wales centre Jamie Roberts was punished for not releasing, but a more ominous-looking sign for Wales was a scrum that creaked with worrying regularity.

Halfpenny’s fourth successful penalty then made it 19-13 to Wales, before a Laidlaw strike cut the gap, but Wales should have moved clear when they broke Scotland’s defence midway through the second period. Williams dived gleefully to score in the corner, yet referee Glenn Jackson consulted the television match official and then rightly ruled out the try following obstruction by two Wales forwards during the immediate build-up.

But Wales were not to be denied, and they effectively made the game safe 16 minutes from time when Davies crashed through a couple of weak tackles, touching down between the posts for a try that Halfpenny converted. Hamilton touched down with the game’s final attacking phase, with Russell converting, but Wales prevailed and collected two vital points.

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: Wales 16-21 England

England clinched a memorable, come-from-behind victory over Wales in Cardiff as the Six Nations Championship began in spectacular fashion.

Wales leapt out to a 10-0 lead as Rhys Webb’s try added to an early Leigh Halfpenny penalty, conceded by England within a minute of kick-off.

However, England progressively found their footing in the game and Anthony Watson scored his first Test try by latching on to Mike Brown’s grubber kick.

Dan Biggar’s superb drop goal on the stroke of half-time gave Wales a 16-8 lead, but 10 unanswered points – a Jonathan Joseph try and a conversion and penalty from George Ford – put England ahead against 14-man Wales, who had Alex Cuthbert sin-binned.

An obstruction saw a Dave Attwood try disallowed after review by the TMO, but a penalty with two minutes remaining allowed Ford to seal an incredible England victory.

The roof was open as both sides had to agree to close it and England had declined to do so, and Wales immediately looked as if they had been angered by the decision.

Wales won their own kick-off and when the ball was switched back to the right they won a penalty which the ever-reliable Leigh Halfpenny landed from 40 metres.

There was even better to come for Wales after eight minutes when Dan Biggar’s cross-field kick found Halfpenny on the touch-line and the full-back chipped on to cause panic on the England line after Anthony Watson had gathered.

Wales were given the scrum and, even though it was going backwards, Toby Faletau picked up and shrugged off the tackle of James Haskell to slip in Rhys Webb at the corner.

Halfpenny converted for a 10-0 lead but England hit back after 15 minutes when pressure at the scrum set up territory and Mike Brown chipped through for the alert Watson to collect his first Test try, George Ford striking the upright with his conversion attempt.

Wales were keen to test Ford’s defensive abilities at every opportunity and send powerhouses Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert down his channel but England were not giving an inch despite having come into the game as underdogs.

But Halfpenny landed another 40-metre penalty after England prop Dan Cole was penalised for going off his feet at a ruck.

Ford replied with a penalty of his own after Roberts was penalised for an early tackle on Jonny May and Wales lost George North in the same passage of play as the winger was caught by the flying boot of Dave Attwood.

North was back on the field just before the break and Biggar’s 35-metre drop goal extended Wales’ lead with the final kick of the first half.

England started the second half on the front foot and they were rewarded for their patience inside four minutes as they went through 20 phases before Joseph slipped Biggar and North to burst over, Ford’s conversion making it a one-point game at 16-15.

Wales were struggling to combat England’s positive approach but Ford spurned the opportunity to give the visitors the lead when his penalty attempt missed the target from 45 metres.

Roberts on the crash ball tried to give Wales some momentum and lift a home crowd who had been expecting an easier evening against injury-ravaged opponents.

But England managed to turn the ball over in their own ’22 and lift the pressure as the tempo paused for breath as Halfpenny required treatment following a bang on the head.

England were making the most of their advantage in the scrum to enjoy good territory and Ford’s penalty put the visitors ahead at 18-16 with Cuthbert yellow carded to reduce Wales to 14 men on the hour mark.

Wales did not concede when Cuthbert was off the field but England might have put the game to bed when centre Luther Burrell broke clear in open play.

Brown had clear grass to run into but Burrell’s pass was slightly high and behind him and the full-back was unable to hold on.

England were denied a third try when Attwood’s effort was disallowed for replacement Nick Easter blocking Biggar but Ford’s 45-metre penalty two minutes from time settled matters.

Read more at ESPN