Wales’ constant revolving injury door during the 2015 Rugby World Cup has made Warren Gatland’s men favourites to land next year’s Six Nations title, according to absent full-back Leigh Halfpenny.
While New Zealand swept all before them to become the first nation to win back-to-back World Cups, Wales were at times struggling to get a starting XV together with injuries crippling their tournament hopes.
Before the tournament had even kicked off, Warren Gatland knew he would have to do without Rhys Webb and British & Irish Lions Jonathan Davies and Halfpenny, the latter – Wales’ third highest record points scorer after Neil Jenkins and Stephen Jones – having ruptured an anterior cruciate knee ligament during Wales’ 23-19 warm-up win over Italy at the Millennium Stadium in September.
And when the tournament got underway things went from bad to worse as their backs were falling like flies with Liam Williams, Scott Williams, Hallam Amos and Cory Allen all picking up injuries.
HOPEFUL: Halfpenny believes ‘the future of Welsh rugby is in great shape’
Despite this though Wales still escaped the ‘Pool of Death’ – beating England at Twickenham along the way – and battled bravely before losing their quarter-final 23-19 against bronze-medal winners South Africa.
But when a door shuts another opens and those who came in for their injured comrades showed that the future of Welsh rugby is in safe hands with Lloyd Williams, Gareth Davies and Gareth Anscombe all impressing, while Dan Biggar stepped up to the plate in impressive fashion at fly-half.
And Halfpenny believes that every cloud does indeed have a silver lining, and that the injury crisis that hit Wales over the last month or so will pay immediate dividends next year as they bid to get their hands back on the Six Nations title for the first time since 2013.
“While Wales didn’t go as far as we had hoped, I think the World Cup showed us that the future of Welsh rugby is in great shape,” said Halfpenny, whose own Six Nations hopes still hang in the balance as he faces a race against time to be fit.
“We have shown in this World Cup how much strength and depth we have in this squad and we have shown how we can compete with the best no matter what.
“The focus will now turn to the Six Nations and doing well there and there is no reason, from what we saw in the World Cup, that we can’t do that.
“The injuries the Wales team have had were obviously disappointing, but the players that have come in for them did a fantastic job and put in unbelievable shifts.
“It goes to show what strength in depth there is in Welsh rugby and that is a great thing for us to have because competition for places is what keeps players on their toes and constantly at the top of their game – it is an exciting future for rugby in Wales.”
Halfpenny’s injury meant he always knew that he was going to have to sit out the Rugby World Cup final, should Wales have made it that far.
But he ensured he didn’t miss out on the action altogether as he travelled to Arbroath to watch the All Blacks beat Australia at Knox Church as a guest of 78-year-old George Robertson, who had won the opportunity as an SSE reward customer.
And after praising the competition as a whole, Halfpenny was delighted to have watched Saturday’s action unfold in George’s company.
GREAT EXPERIENCE: The Toulon full-back watched the final in a church in Arbroath
“To come to Arbroath, a place I have never been before, and watch the Rugby World Cup final with some fans was a great experience,” Halfpenny said.
“All the people in attendance were into their rugby and there was about 20 people all watching the game and it was great to meet them.
“This is one of the great things about the Rugby World Cup, it has taken the sport to different places and all over the UK.
“So to watch the final with some fans in Arbroath is great and hopefully places like this can really pick up rugby now and carry it on.”
SSE is proud co-sponsor of ITV’s coverage of Rugby World Cup 2015. Visit ssereward.com to access advance entertainment tickets for The SSE Hydro, The SSE Arena Wembley and The SSE Arena Belfast up to 48 hours before general sale, subject to availability and terms and conditions.