Get that try and get the boys through to the semi-finals – that was the only thought racing through the mind of Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny in the dying moments of the crunch Pool D match against France in Swansea last Saturday.
Easier said than done.
But the Cardiff Blues man took his chance with aplomb, collecting centre Jonathan Davies’ beautifully weighted lofted pass and completing his dash for glory to help earn the hosts a memorable 23-19 comeback victory.
He revealed this week, however, he had little time to think about his match-winning intervention.
“I can’t really recall what I was thinking when the ball was in the air. I just remember [thinking] ‘get over the line and get that ball down’ and the rest is just hype and celebration,” he explained. “I’ll never forget it – it was a fantastic feeling.”
“I could see the forwards were tight, all the French backs were in and there was a lot of space out wide, so I was shouting and waving to get it out.”
Flanker Josh Turnbull, for one, was in no doubt Halfpenny would deliver the goods.
“When we saw it (the pass), we didn’t doubt Leigh would score the try. As soon as he scored it the house erupted and everyone was so excited. We knew we were in the semi-finals then.”
Turnbull also paid tribute also to the never-say-die spirit displayed by the team.
Down and buried
“We were down and buried with 10 minutes to go,” he said. “But when we had that penalty try we just picked ourselves up. We just had to dig deep within ourselves to find that extra little bit to score that try in the corner.
“That was probably the toughest last 10 minutes I’ve played in my life, giving everything – all the boys did. We were really happy that we came out with a win.”
Full back Daniel Evans, looking ahead to Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand at Rodney Parade in Newport, said the tournament had been a great experience for all the players.
“It’s been great having a big crowd behind us. Hopefully they can get behind us and get on [New Zealand’s] backs and put pressure on them.”
Evans agreed it would be sweet to avenge Wales’ twin defeats, including the semi-final loss, by the New Zealanders at last year’s IRB Under 19 World Championship in Belfast. “They beat us twice last year so it would be nice to get one back on them.”
Halfpenny, too, wants the home fans to turn out in force.
“We need all the support we can get to get the boys up for it. Obviously we’ll be up for it anyway but the more there is the better. That’s what showed through at the end in the France game when they were all cheering us on to get over that white line.”
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