Fitness doubts grow over Leigh Halfpenny as Wales prepare to face New Zealand

Leigh Halfpenny’s hopes of making a Wales return against New Zealand on Saturday could be dashed by injury.

The Scarlets full-back has been suffering from a hamstring strain but was named in the starting line-up by head coach Wayne Pivac.

He took an extremely limited part, though, in the 10 minutes of Friday’s Wales captain’s run at the Principality Stadium that were open to the media.

Leigh Halfpenny
Leigh Halfpenny suffered a serious knee injury in Wales’ 2021 game against Canada (David Davies/PA)

He spent time in the corner of the pitch with a member of Wales’ support staff before leaving and walking up the players’ tunnel alone.

Halfpenny has not played Test rugby since suffering serious knee ligament damage in Wales’ victory over Canada 16 months ago.

If he is ruled out of the Autumn Nations Series opener, then Wales look likely to hand Cardiff’s Rhys Priestland or current starting fly-half Gareth Anscombe a role in the number 15 jersey.

Priestland, usually a fly-half, has played at full-back for Cardiff this season.

Should the 35-year-old be promoted from the replacements for a first Test start since Wales faced Georgia in 2017, then uncapped Scarlets fly-half Sam Costelow could provide bench cover.

Costelow, 21, participated in the captain’s run as Wales went through their final pre-match session.

Wales will make their latest attempt to defeat the All Blacks, having not achieved it since 1953 and lost 32 successive Tests against them.

But Wales can take heart from New Zealand’s patchy form this year, with Ireland (twice), Argentina and South Africa having defeated the All Blacks.

Pivac has recalled the likes of Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric, who have been long-term injury absentees alongside Halfpenny, with Tipuric taking over as captain from an injured Dan Biggar.

Tipuric said: “It is going to be a tough physical game and it will be brutal in areas. We know what they (New Zealand) are going to bring.

“It’s never a good time to play the All Blacks, let’s be honest. We have got to make sure we put our best foot forward.

“I think the way New Zealand play and the way we want to play, it should be a fast, running game.

“New Zealand always finish strongly and that is the one big thing we need to make sure we get right.

“You can’t switch off, otherwise they take advantage of it. In the past we started well against them and then they pull away in the last 20 minutes.

“The big thing is whether we can stick it for the full 80 minutes.”

Pivac has already masterminded Wales’ first victory over the Springboks on South African soil this year, and he added: “The boys are really excited.

Wayne Pivac
Wayne Pivac masterminded Wales’ first victory over the Springboks in South Africa (Mike Egerton/PA)

“They created some history (in South Africa) and they want to create some more.

“We respect them (New Zealand) but we’ve got to go out there and not fear them.

“The message in our camp is ‘let’s go out there and put our stamp on the game early’. We have to start well.”

Referee Wayne Barnes will become the second official in rugby union history to control 100 Tests when he takes charge of Saturday’s encounter.

He follows Welshman Nigel Owens in reaching that landmark, and the game will start with Barnes blowing the whistle from Wales’ first victory against the All Blacks in 1905.

Scotland’s John Dallas was the man in the middle on that day, when Wales defeated New Zealand 3-0 in front of a 40,000 crowd at Cardiff Arms Park.

Toby Goodman, an exiled New Zealander currently living in Bath, bought the whistle and accompanying correspondence from Dallas several years ago, and the whistle will be lent to Barnes for kick-off.