Leigh Halfpenny will make his eagerly-awaited Test match return on Saturday when Wales host opening autumn opponents Australia.
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.
“I think when you are injured, you want to use that time to improve on all aspects of your game,” he added. “Especially when you are out for such a lengthy period, you get a lot of time to work on your skills and other aspects of your game.
“Each week when I have played (since returning to action) I felt the knee was getting better. Pushing off it wasn’t the same as before, but the surgeon told me that would be the case. Now, it is feeling normal again.
“It felt like a long time out, but just watching the guys out in New Zealand in June, I thought they were outstanding on that tour, particularly in those first two Tests.
“They had New Zealand there, but couldn’t quite get the result in the end, but the boys can take a huge amount of pride and a lot of positives from those two performances.”
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.”
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