CARDIFF, United Kingdom: Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny won the 2013 Six Nations Championship player of the year award on Friday.
Halfpenny, who scored 74 points in the tournament as Wales retained their title, was well out in front of a public vote, gaining 40 percent of the ballot — well ahead of the runner-up, Italy flanker Alessandro Zanni, with Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg third.
More than 80,000 people voted after a 15-player shortlist was compiled through a mix of rugby statistics and fans’ opinion on social media sites as Halfpenny succeeded Wales team-mate Dan Lydiate in winning the Six Nations’ top individual honour.
Cardiff Blues’ Halfpenny is widely regarded as the overwhelming favourite to be the British and Irish Lions full-back in Australia later this year.
“I can’t thank the people who voted for me enough,” Halfpenny, 24, said. “It’s a real honour and privilege, and I am overwhelmed to be in among the players shortlisted.
“It’s the icing on the cake of an exceptional year for Wales, and it is a privilege to be part of such an exceptional group of people.”
Halfpenny received his trophy in Cardiff on Friday, just under a week after Wales thrashed England by a record-breaking 30-3 at the Millennium Stadium to retain the Six Nations title and deny their arch-rivals a Grand Slam.
“It has been an unbelievable week,” he added. “It can’t get any better for me. To top off such an amazing day as last Saturday by winning this is huge.
“The atmosphere in the stadium was unbelievable. Singing the anthem is something that I will never forget, and the fans were outstanding, as they have been home and away during the tournament.
“As players, the squad showed immense character and gained confidence throughout the tournament, and against England everything came together and clicked.
“It was a great performance and the best game I have been involved in.”
Wales’ interim head coach Rob Howley paid tribute to Halfpenny by saying: “Leigh is fearless, courageous and is one of the best full-backs in world rugby. He can be very proud of his performances throughout the championship.
“He constantly strives for perfection in his preparation and performance, and he sets high standards,” the former Wales and Lions scrum-half added.
“He is a model professional in every facet of the game, and I am delighted for him. His contribution to the side has been huge.”