Leigh Halfpenny is making headline news for Wales this week – and Springboks superstar Bryan Habana has read all about it.
Andrew Baldock writes for PA Sport that Halfpenny, 19, will become the 60th teenager to represent Wales in 590 Tests when he lines up against South Africa on Saturday.
And World Cup winner Habana, one of the international game’s deadliest finishers with 31 tries, is the man set to mark him.
Habana said: “I have heard about him in the newspapers this week, and I heard he has had quite a good season over here.
“I have not seen a lot of his play, but I have heard a lot, and I will probably be doing a lot of analysis on him leading into the Test match.
“Any guy on the wing is going to be a great test for me.”
Wales boss Warren Gatland and his coaching staff have encouraged Halfpenny to enjoy the occasion, although it will be a huge ask for the Cardiff Blues wing.
He has played just seven matches of top-flight rugby but Gatland had no intention of adopting a perceived safety-first selection approach.
Gatland said: “At 19 years old our message to Leigh has been to just go out there and enjoy himself. He needs to play without fear and enjoy the experience.
“The last thing he needs from us is to start talking too much about Bryan Habana, because he could get more worked up and nervous. He needs to go out there and really enjoy the occasion.
“The message to him will be to have some fun. A few months ago he was in the (Wales) Under-20s looking up to these guys, thinking it might be a number of years before he got there, but now he will be running out on the field with them.
“The great thing about Leigh is that he’s a wing who has been scoring tries. He should go into the game with nothing to fear.
“We could have gone conservative in selection and put someone like Tom Shanklin in there, but just because you are inexperienced doesn’t mean you are not good enough to step up to the plate.”
Halfpenny, who averages one try per match for the Blues, will be joined on Saturday by fellow debutant and Blues colleague Andy Powell.
Powell packs down in the back-row alongside Martyn Williams and skipper Ryan Jones, with the captain accommodating him by being moved to blindside flanker.
But Ospreys hooker Huw Bennett, who was injured on EDF Energy Cup duty two days ago, is another absentee, with Scarlets’ Matthew Rees coming in.
Bennett’s untimely ankle problem is likely to sideline him for the entire autumn series. Wales also face Canada, New Zealand and Australia this month.
And Gatland has sprung a surprise at scrum-half, preferring Gloucester’s Gareth Cooper to the more experienced Dwayne Peel, who has to content himself with a place on the bench.
Gavin Henson and 6ft 4in Jamie Roberts forge a new-look centre combination – Roberts has already played wing and full-back in his short Test career – while Stephen Jones edges out James Hook at fly-half.
As for the challenge facing South Africa, Habana added: “Wales are Six Nations champions and have formed great combinations over the years.
“This Test match is going to be a tough one, and we hope that focusing on one game at a time works for us in this three-week tour process.”Tweet