Leigh Halfpenny was removed from the field of play on Saturday having taken a serious blow to the side of his head when tackling Italy’s big Samuela Vunisa. It’s not the first time this has happened, prompting some questions about technique.
Vunisa made a clean break from his own 22 following a line-out, and was allowed to continue to accelerate to full speed until he met the last line of defence, Leigh Halfpenny, on the halfway line.
The Welsh 15’s tackle, whilst undoubtedly remarkably brave, was also extremely poor technique.
“The thing is at full-back, people are running straight for you so you do have to have a proper technique and I think it’s shown on a few occasions that his technique is a little bit flawed,” said former Wales captain Gareth Thomas in his BBC column.
“It’s sad because he’s getting injured from a bad technique. There’s cause for concern there, just for one for his personal welfare, but also potentially missing tackles because he’s putting his head in the wrong place all the time. I think maybe he’s favouring one shoulder over another.”
Halfpenny made contact from the side, while coaches would say that Halfpenny should have hit with his left shoulder and placed his head behind the attacking player, thereby using the Italian’s momentum to bring him down.
However, Halfpenny used his right shoulder in the challenge and as a direct result his head was in front of Vunisa’s legs. After the contact it was clear that Halfpenny was not in a good way.
The medical staff were quick to realise and withdrew the fullback from the match shortly before halftime. After the break it was confirmed that concussion protocols were to be carried out, and the talisman kicker would play no further part in the afternoon’s proceedings.
Somewhat worrying is that this is not the first occasion on which Halfpenny has caused himself damage from sub-par tackling practise. In last year’s RBS Six Nations he made a try-saving tackle on English centre Luther Burrell which resulted in a dislocated shoulder for the Welshman, and his subsequent early departure from the tournament.
Although such tackles are immensely brave and highly effective, his tendency to get injured performing them has raised concern amongst fans and critics alike, as pundit Jonathan Davies said “He’s brave as they come. He never shirks a tackle, but I’m slightly worried now at the amount of times I see him hit his head on the wrong side.”
Any criticism of Halfpenny’s technique stems only from a collective concern from the rugby community that he may do himself some permanent damage and cut short an already outstanding career. We hope to see him back on the pitch soon.
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