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Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 16:20 UK

Halfpenny joins Lions squad in SA

Leigh Halfpenny in actionf for Wales
Leigh Halfpenny was playing semi-pro club rugby a little over a year ago

Cardiff Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny has joined the Lions in South Africa after recovering from the thigh injury that threatened to wreck his tour.

The 20-year-old was left in Wales when the Lions left London nine days ago in order to receive intensive treatment.

But he landed in Johannesburg on Tuesday and on arrival he underwent a post-flight recovery session with the Lions medical staff.

"It is just great to be back with the team," he said.

"I've been working really hard with the Cardiff medical team and they have got me back to full fitness, so I am raring to go for the Lions.

"Also, as the youngest player on tour, I now have responsibility for (mascot) Lenny the Lion, so Keith Earls officially handed over custody as soon as I walked into the team room!"

He missed the opening 37-25 tour win against a Royal XV and will be in contention for Saturday's clash against Free State Cheetahs at Bloemfontein.

"He's [Halfpenny] done two full sessions, including kicking sessions from 35 and then 40 metres," said Lions head coach Ian McGeechan said on Monday.

"Leigh's been training, 'rehabing' outstandingly well. Our medical team gave him a programme to follow, which he's done.

"The Cardiff doctor watched him again with the physio... and there's been no comebacks from that at all, which we were waiting for.

"We got the phone call this morning [Monday] so I gave him a ring straight away and said 'can you get on the plane tonight?'

"So there was a bit of silence at the other end and I think he's already started packing his bags.

"So we hope to see him here by tomorrow [Tuesday] morning."

The Lions are next in action on Wednesday, when they take on the Golden Lions in Johannesburg's Ellis Park.

Halfpenny's arrival in South Africa takes the tour party back to 37 players, as originally announced.

His injury scare prompted the Lions management to call up Wales' James Hook to provide additional goal-kicking options and cover at fly-half and inside centre.

Hook will stay with the squad for the entire tour, effectively taking the place of injured Welshman Tom Shanklin.

The Lions initially did not name a replacement for Shanklin when he was ruled out for 16 weeks with a dislocated shoulder, before eventually turning to Hook.

Before departure the Lions also lost the services of Ireland scrum-half Tomas O'Leary - who broke an ankle and was replaced by Scotland's Mike Blair - and O'Leary's Munster team-mate Alan Quinlan after the back-row was handed a 12-week suspension.

Halfpenny has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top after going from playing semi-pro club rugby a year ago to earning the call to face South Africa this summer.


He was a surprise Wales starter, then aged just 19, against the Springboks last November as the world champions came to Cardiff.

Wales lost 20-15 in a thriller, with Halfpenny opening his Test points account with a penalty when used as a long-range kicking option.

The youngster did not take long to score his first try for his country, grabbing a brace against Canada the following week, and he also featured in the third November Test, a 29-9 defeat against New Zealand.

Halfpenny was left out of the following week's famous win over Australia as Wales coach Warren Gatland opted for the greater experience of Mark Jones.

But Gatland - who is one of McGeechan's assistants in South Africa - restored Halfpenny for the Six Nations opener against Scotland.

Halfpenny rewarded the faith shown in him with a third Test try and then added a crucial fourth, plus a penalty, in the next round's win over England.

He also played against France but missed out for the final two games against Italy and Ireland.

However, some fine performances for the Blues - especially in their victorious EDF Energy Cup campaign and their run to the Heineken Cup semi-finals - saw Halfpenny get a Lions berth.

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