Eager Leigh Halfpenny relishing Wales return

Leigh Halfpenny will make his eagerly-awaited Test match return tomorrow when Wales host opening autumn opponents Australia.

Eager Leigh Halfpenny relishing Wales return

And Halfpenny admitted he has missed the international scene “a heck of a lot” after being sidelined from Wales action since suffering knee ligament damage during his country’s final World Cup warm-up game 14 months ago.

“I am just absolutely delighted to hear my name read out to start against Australia — I am just over the moon to be playing after such a long spell away,” he said.

“I have missed it, I’ve missed it a heck of a lot. I can’t wait for Saturday.”

Halfpenny made his comeback for French heavyweights Toulon against Top 14 semi-final opponents Montpellier in June, and he now gains a Wales recall at the start of an autumn period that also features Cardiff appointments with Argentina, Japan and South Africa.

Given that wing Alex Cuthbert is back in the Wales mix to strengthen already powerful back-three resources, 27-year-old Halfpenny could find himself in a battle for Wales’ number 15 shirt this season with Liam Williams.

Williams starred on the New Zealand tour, and while an injury has sidelined him for the Australia clash, it is hoped he will be fit ahead of next week’s Argentina encounter.

Both players have also played on the wing at the highest level, and Halfpenny said: “It’s hugely positive for both of us and for the team.

“With that competition, we’re pushing each other. You are always looking to improve your game.

“Me and Liam are great friends. I was really pleased for him watching his performances in New Zealand. He was outstanding.”

Meanwhile, Michael Cheika does not believe that Australia’s long winning run against Wales is relevant going into their Principality Stadium meeting tomorrow.

The Wallabies have reeled off 11 successive wins at Wales’ expense, and not lost in the fixture since 2008.

But Australia head coach Cheika said: “I don’t know if anyone is thinking about 12 in a row at a time when we have not won as many games as we should have this year.

“It has not popped up on anyone’s radar.

“All that stuff is the past. It gives you nothing on Saturday, and it gives them (Wales) nothing. It is the two teams on match day putting what they consider to be their best rugby forward.

“The better team will win, and that is what it boils down to. The other stuff is nice fluff around the outside.

“You have got to think about what is next, not what is behind you. That is what we are doing.”

David Pocock will play at blindside flanker for the first time in his distinguished Test career on Saturday. Pocock, who has won more than 60 caps in the Wallabies back-row, takes over from a suspended Dean Mumm.

It will be Pocock’s first start since he broke his hand during a 36-20 victory over Argentina in mid-September, and he packs down alongside Michael Hooper and number eight Lopeti Timani.

Centre Tevita Kuridrani joins Pocock as the only other change following Australia’s defeat to New Zealand in Auckland last time out. Kuridrani replaces an injured Samu Kerevi, with Cheika having resisted any temptation to switch full-back Israel Folau into midfield.

Reflecting on his changed role, Pocock said: “There is a bit of detail to learn, and it is exciting to be back out there.

“I do not think I have played at six before. It is a challenge for me and Hoops (Michael Hooper) to work it out, and we have done a bit in the last couple of days.”

Wales also go into battle with a rejigged back-row — Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau are missing this weekend — but Cheika added: “The players they have got are of high quality.

“If Warburton is not there, (Justin) Tipuric is in any other national team. He is a quality openside, and (Ross) Moriarty is a dynamic player, a handful, and (Dan) Lydiate has form on the board as a strong defender.

“It is a complementary back-row. The two set-ups are different, and it will be a very interesting part of the game.”

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