Before I get started on this post I just wanted to clarify; this is not a direct attack on Leigh Halfpenny or some stupid rant about him not being a top player, it is simply an effort to open up a debate over whether people believe there is an excessive amount of hyperbole surrounding him.
I’m aware that this next statement is likely to receive a fair bit of criticism (and not just from Welsh fans) but for me Leigh Halfpenny is not even the best full-back in the 6 Nations, never mind the World. This point has been magnified for me so far in the 6 Nations by Wales’ lack of attacking flair throughout the backs that has continued to hamper their ability to put key points on the board.
Although Halfpenny is just one of a number of Welsh players struggling to find their attacking flair at the moment, it seems a rare occasion for me when Halfpenny gets me jumping out of my seat in excitement. I accept that not all full-backs have to be exciting attacking players to be effective, but if you look at the other full-backs currently in the 6 Nations you would struggle to list many who were less of an attacking threat than Halfpenny.
Stuart Hogg, Mike Brown, Rob Kearney and Brice Dulin have all shown attacking intent with ball in hand that has caused defences serious concern that I feel you just don’t get with watching Halfpenny. I’ll admit, there have been occasions when I have seen him show he is capable of attacking the oppositions line, but as a counter runner I feel all four of the other full-backs mentioned offer much more in this respect.
And if you were to compare Halfpenny to the incumbent top 3 full-backs in the Southern Hemisphere you would also have to say he compares unfavourably in a number of key areas. Israel Folau for example is at least equal-to, if not notably stronger than Halfpenny under the high ball (one of Leigh’s supposed key strengths) whilst he is also a considerably more potent threat ball-in-hand.
Meanwhile Willie Le Roux may not be quite as secure under the high ball but his vision and tactical kicking far out-trump Halfpenny and have caused the opposition defence issues on numerous occasions. I also believe that Israel Dagg is the best rounded full-back in the World at the moment and offers much more round the pitch than Halfpenny.
So if Halfpenny falls short in so many aspects of his game then why is there such hype around him? I would suggest this is primarily down to his ability from the kicking tee. Halfpenny has forged a near legendary status with some fans based around his prowess as a goal-kicker and not a lot else. He is obviously solid at the back and a safe pair of hands under the high ball, but can you honestly say he would be as well regarded if he wasn’t his sides primary goal-kicker?