Super Rugby Pacific: Marquee recruit Leigh Halfpenny making immediate impact with Crusaders

High-profile Crusaders recruit Leigh Halfpenny has only been in New Zealand a handful of days, but is quickly making his presence felt with his new team.

The former British & Irish Lions representative and Wales international touched down in Aotearoa last week to begin his one-year tenure with the defending champions.  

New coach Rob Penney says the 105-test veteran has had no problems ingratiating himself with his new squad and has made an immediate impact during the early stages of their preparations for their Super Rugby Pacific title defence.

"He's brought a lot of energy," said Penney. "Blowfly in a glass jar, Leigh is.

"He's great to have around. He's mixed in beautifully."

Penney was the engineer of Halfpenny's shift down south, shoulder tapping him before the World Cup in France to gauge his interest in a stint down under.  

"He's a wee bit understated but overdelivers and that's truly what we want in our organisation," Penney added. "He's a great asset for us."

Leigh Halfpenny after playing his final match for Wales.
Leigh Halfpenny after playing his final match for Wales. Photo credit: Getty Images

With the exodus of experience in Christchurch during the off-season, with Sam Whitelock and Richie Mo'unga among the players to have moved off-shore, the 36-year-old brings a welcome dose of veteran savvy to the franchise in their bid for an eighth title.

Since their arrival, Halfpenny, his wife and his two young daughters have been staying with former Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar, who he knows well from their time at Welsh club Scarlets, where Mooar was head coach in 2019 to 2020.

"The players and staff have been really welcoming and really friendly," said Halfpenny, who played his final match for Wales against Barbarians in September.

"It's been great to look around and get to know the city."

Halfpenny was among the Crusaders contingent who took to the water on Tuesday at the Avon Rowing Club, as part of Penney's pre-season initiative that's equal parts fitness and team bonding.

The squad has been divided into teams for four sessions of practice apiece, before squaring off in a race where season-long bragging rights will be at stake.

Penney says there's a distinct translation between the principles of rowing and what they're trying to achieve on the rugby field.

"There's an art to it," he said. "It's not just about brute force. I guess that’s one of the analogies and synergies that were trying to crossover.

"There's a strength aspect and power is a virtue in rowing but there's also a lot of intelligence and working together and smarts required to get the outcome.

"Just trying to get those relationships with our game a little bit and have a bit of a fun activity as well."

And fun is what Penney insists he's having plenty of through the early going of his tenure as Scott Robertson's successor – more fun, in fact, than he'd expected.

"It's much better than I anticipated," said Penney.

"I'm a bit sad at the end of the day, and then I can't wait for tomorrow to come and am excited when the next day dawns and we're able to get back into work.

"We've only been together a few days, so it is very, very early days. But so proud of the commitment that the group has shown to date and the support

"There's just so many good people around the organisation and externally as well which are prepared to help the Crusaders, which is just wonderful."