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Back to school for our Leigh; HALFPENNY IS LOCAL HERO.

Byline: PAUL JONES

LIONS TOUR: WELSH ROOKIE SPARKS PHOENIX-LIKE REVIVAL

LEIGH HALFPENNY is the Lion who will become a phoenix at his old school where he helped them rise from the ashes.

Halfpenny is also a young pup, at 20 the youngest player in the 37-man squad for South Africa this summer after an incredible rise to fame with Wales and the Cardiff Blues this season.

But the meteoric breakthrough of the young wing has also proved an inspiring symbol for Penyrheol Comprehensive in Gorseinon, near Swansea which was burnt down by arsonists just months after Halfpenny left.

The attack, in March 2006, destroyed two-thirds of the school and it won't be until August that the rebuilding work will finally be finished.

When the new campus opens, Halfpenny will be a guest of honour and pride of place in the foyer will be a giant picture of

Penyrheol's first Welsh international cap and only Lion.

Headteacher Alan Tootill admits: "Can you imagine how it felt when Leigh was handed his first Wales cap last year? After all that has happened to the school, it was like a breath of fresh air.

"His achievements have been amazing. All of his teachers are so proud of what Leigh has achieved in such a short space of time.

"All the way through school, Leigh was a model student. He was never in trouble, he never caused any problems for any of his peers and when it came to his education, he was right up there with the very best." Halfpenny, who was forced to put his dentistry studies on hold when his rugby career took off, went back to school in December to speak at an awards night.

Now, he is to be invited back when the new pounds 10m site is completed.

Wales coach Warren Gatland spotted Halfpenny after just half a dozen games for the Blues at the start of this season.

Blessed with pace, power, balance and accurate goalkicking, it was his consistency which impressed most.

Halfpenny was given his Wales debut against the Springboks last November and told to keep former world player of the year Bryan Habana quiet.

The Boks won 20-15 but there wasn't a peep out of Habana.

Halfpenny says: "I've faced Habana once already and it wasn't too bad. Hopefully, it will be the same if we meet in South Africa.

"I felt very nervous watching the Lions squad announcement on TV and when they read my name out it was an unbelievable feeling.

"I jumped in the air and started crying. They I rang my parents and they started crying."To pull on a Lions Test jersey would be really amazing."

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FULL SHILLING: Halfpenny has been an inspiration to a school which has had to be re-built
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 26, 2009
Words:465
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