Welsh rugby bids fond farewell to celebrated trio with 352 caps between them

Warren Gatland reflected on an “incredibly special” occasion as Welsh rugby said farewell to three of its biggest names in the sport’s professional era.

Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Leigh Halfpenny, who won 352 caps between them, enjoyed a fitting send-off from international rugby as Wales beat the Barbarians 49-26 in Cardiff.

A crowd of 53,000 roared its approval, with a prolonged standing ovation afforded to Halfpenny when he went off 13 minutes from time proving particularly memorable.

Wales v Barbarians – Autumn International – Principality Stadium
Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny takes a handshake from Barbarians captain and long-time Wales team-mate Alun Wyn Jones as he leaves the field following his final appearance for his country (Joe Giddens/PA)

Billed as a tribute match, all three players played their part, with Wales full-back Halfpenny contributing five conversions, while official player-of-the-match Jones scored a try and captained a Barbarians side that saw flanker Tipuric among his team-mates.

Halfpenny is now set for a move to the southern hemisphere, with Super Rugby heavyweights the Crusaders his likely destination, while Jones is currently with French club Toulon and Tipuric remains a key figure in Ospreys colours.

“For the three of them, to have that game here in the stadium was incredibly special,” Wales head coach Gatland said.

“I thought the crowd were amazing in recognising that as well.

“I thought ‘Tips’ played well today, he caused us a few problems at the breakdown. I said that to him afterwards and he said ‘there’s still life in the old boy yet’.

“Al (Jones) as well. It was an entertaining game, and in fairness to them they put us under some pressure.

“We talked about leaving Leigh on for 80 minutes, but then there was an opportunity to bring him off. I thought the ovation he got is testament to him not just as a rugby player, but as a person.”

Wales v Barbarians – Autumn International – Principality Stadium
Barbarians captain Alun Wyn Jones (third from left) celebrates scoring a try during the 49-26 defeat against Wales (Joe Giddens/PA).

First-half tries by hooker Dewi Lake, wing Tom Rogers and fly-half Sam Costelow gave Wales a fast start in their final match before a Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 3.

But Fijian scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli scored two Barbarians tries, and when Jones crossed early in the second period, Wales led by just two points, with Nicolas Sanchez adding a conversion double.

Replacements Taine Plumtree, Aaron Wainwright and Kieran Hardy (2) claimed second-half touchdowns for Wales, though, with Halfpenny and Cai Evans each adding two conversions, with Barbarians flanker Tom Hooper also scoring a try, converted by Ben Donaldson.

Gatland added: “To score 49 points, you’ve got to be pretty happy. We probably left a few out there in the first half, with some of the opportunities we created.

“We scrummaged well, the lineout was outstanding today – both defensively and on attack. As the game went on, we grew into it.

“There were times where I thought we defended well and didn’t give them opportunities. But there were also times when we came under some pressure with their off-loading game and we were stressed.

“I am pleased where we are, I am pleased with this group of players.

“We are setting standards and expectations on ourselves in terms of what we expect as a team going forward.

“We know this next Six Nations will be a challenge, but if you keep working hard and keep believing, we are capable of doing things and winning matches. We showed that in the World Cup.”