Leigh Halfpenny: 'People aren't giving us any hope, that is not where we want to be'
YOU suspect Leigh Halfpenny headed two queues on the day of his birth 24 years ago next month — one for talent, the other for bravery.
At just 5ft 8in and 13st 6lb, he is a small man in a big man's world.
But his ability is in inverse proportion to his size and his courage is not exactly in short supply, either.
Last Friday he could easily have been excused for keeping a low profile against Samoa, with their penchant for trying to remove heads from shoulders, rearranging facial features and cracking opposition bones.
It was a night when anyone in a red jersey carrying the ball stood a reasonable chance of ending the evening in Ward 4 at Cardiff Royal Infirmary.
But Halfpenny refused to hide.
Indeed, he took play forward more times — 11 — than any other Welsh player.
He also displayed the kind of nerve that would have left him with letters after his name and a medal pinned on his chest in other circumstances.
High balls were hoisted his way and Gorseinon's finest unflinchingly put himself in harm's way every time.
At one point he copped a high shot from a Samoan player, leaving him tottering on his feet, as if he
had encountered a raging Mike Tyson in his pomp circa 1988.
But Halfpenny carried on.
When the ball bounced away from him behind Wales's line in the final seconds, allowing a gleeful Samoan to claim the third touchdown, you sensed the autumn series gods were a particularly unfair lot.
Such is life.
The trick is to take charge of your own destiny, to play to potential as a team and remove the need for good fortune from a bouncing oval ball in the 77th minute of an 80-minute game.
But confidence is low in the Welsh camp, with many players having experienced difficult autumns with their regions.
Take Halfpenny. We are barely a month out from Christmas and he is still waiting for his first win of the season: played seven, lost the lot, five with the Blues and two with Wales.
That he has kept his personal performance level high is a tribute to him.
But, in contrast to the mood music of the Welsh camp until now, he admitted yesterday that there could be a link between Wales's poor form and the displays of many regions.
"Maybe confidence could be a problem," he conceded.
"The Heineken Cup didn't go well for the regions, so we didn't have the momentum of winning when we came into camp.
"With the Blues we haven't won too many games, so obviously the confidence is not there as a team and maybe that could be a factor. The habit of winning, I guess it is not there. We just have to try to create it ourselves on Saturday."
While many sportsmen find the underdog's kennel inviting, Halfpenny isn't one of them, saying it isn't where Wales want to be ahead of their game with New Zealand.
"People aren't giving us any hope and it's not a position we want to be in," he said.
"We are not being given a chance by anyone, so it is up to us to prove people wrong.
"That is the attitude we have to have, that we are not willing to accept being written off.
"It is funny how things have turned round so quickly since Australia in the summer. We have been competitive against the southern hemisphere teams and now people are not giving us a chance so we have to go out and prove them wrong."
Talking about that final Samoan try is tough for the full-back. "It was frustrating and difficult for me to deal with, but it is one of those things," he added.
"The ball slipped away. I could feel the pressure of the guy chasing me and I felt I had to dive for it and I missed it. But it shouldn't have got to that, anyway — we should be winning games like that.
"We just have to keep the ball against New Zealand. We turned over too much against Samoa and couldn't apply pressure.
"We have a huge task ahead of us, but there is no better challenge to bounce back from two defeats than playing the world champions."
Warren Gatland is back this week after his time away with the Lions.
When he was last in charge, the champagne corks were popping and smiling players were posing for pictures to celebrate yet another Grand Slam.
He returned yesterday on an appropriately grey day, with heavy rain falling and not a dot of sunshine in the sky.
"In fairness to Rob Howley, he has been training us and working hard on small details as much as Warren," said Halfpenny.
"But Warren is a big figure in the camp and I am sure there will be a few harsh words in our analysis.
"We need to be honest and put our hands up. I am sure that will be the case and Warren as a coach knows what it takes."
At rugby, that tends to be the way it is for New Zealanders.