Halfpenny: Grand Slam the target
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny has said that the current Six Nations table-toppers intend to win the Grand Slam this year.
Last Updated: 18/02/12 10:01pm
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny has set the Six Nations bar as high as possible by saying that Warren Gatland's side can win this year's Grand Slam.
After two matches, Wales are tied with England at the top of the table but victory at Twickenham next Saturday would take them closer to a second clean sweep during Gatland's reign.
They would still need home victories over Italy and France and rarely, if ever, in Six Nations history have Wales headed to Twickenham as favourites.
However, the World Cup semi-finalists are on a roll and, according to Halfpenny, hungry for further success.
"At the end of the day we want to be the best," he said. "That means winning every single game and achieving the Grand Slam. That is the objective in this tournament - nothing less.
"We are preparing for this tournament as we did the World Cup, which was another tournament we set out to win. We want to be the best, and we set high goals to bring the best out of us.
"We train as hard as possible, and nothing less than our best will do. Everyone is ambitious, from the coaches to the players.
"Winning trophies is our goal, and we believe we can achieve that."
Leading from the front
Halfpenny led from the front during Wales' opening two victories over Ireland and Scotland, kicking a match-winning penalty in Dublin under intense pressure and then amassing 22 points - including two tries - when the Scots succumbed in Cardiff.
The 23-year-old, who is poised to win his 30th cap next weekend, puts much of Wales' current success down to the spartan training camp they endured in freezing Poland last month.
"We were pushed to the limits of our endurance - and beyond - out there," he said.
"Your mind is drained, and you need the support of your team-mates to lift you and pull you through, making sure we all get to the finishing line.
"That is what it was like in Dublin during the final five minutes when we were six points behind. Every single player contributed to winning the match.
"It was a really hard game, and 75 minutes in you felt as you had felt in Poland. You had to look deep inside yourself to be able to get the result, and we knew, because of what we had been through together, that we had the character to do it.
"Ireland kicked off after we had scored a try to reduce the deficit to a point, and we had the skill to take the ball up the field in a series of drives.
"We had focused on the basics in training because at such a high-pressure moment in the game you do not want to knock the ball on or anything. Our skills were up there at that point in the game."
Gatland also took his squad to Poland before the World Cup campaign in New Zealand last autumn, when they proved to be arguably the tournament's fittest team.
"There were no home comforts during our time in Poland," Halfpenny said.
"The rooms were basic, no nice beds, and the food was not to our taste. It was egg with everything.
"No-one there spoke our language. It was just us, and when we were there last month, it was freezing cold. We trained on the beach, and it was covered in snow.
"It was a harsh environment, testing you mentally. It was like a military camp, pushing you to breaking point, but you made sure that you did not give in and you pulled others through.
"There were times when you felt like giving up. You thought you had no more to offer and then, from somewhere, you find an extra bit.
"It was like the training in Rocky IV, except for the cutting down of trees."
Halfpenny has become used to such agonies of late, having missed a long-range penalty that could easily have booked Wales a place in the World Cup final against New Zealand.
Yet the way they have bounced back since their defeat to France in Auckland speaks volumes for Gatland's squad and their brand of attacking rugby.
"The loss against France in the World Cup semi-final has made us stronger," Halfpenny added.
"It made you go back and work harder - it gave you the drive to do better.
"When I missed the kick in that match, I said that the next time I had an opportunity I would nail it.
"I was not expecting it to come as soon as Ireland, but I was chuffed to have taken that kick at the end.
"My heart was racing, and you could not help but feel the pressure, but as soon as (referee) Wayne Barnes' arm went up for the penalty I knew it was my moment."