Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny says he is loving rugby again after recovering from one of the most difficult seasons of his career.
Halfpenny missed most of the 2018-19 campaign after suffering concussion against Australia in November 2018.
The 31-year-old is now in fine form for Scarlets and favourite to be the Wales full-back in the Six Nations opener against Italy on 1 February.
“I am enjoying being on the field after a difficult period,” said Halfpenny.
“To overcome that from last season and be out on the field, I am just so grateful to be back playing.”
Halfpenny’s contract is up at the end of the season and fellow Wales and British and Irish Lions full-back Liam Williams is returning to Scarlets from Saracens.
His purple patch has resulted in Scarlets general manager Jon Daniels and outgoing head coach Brad Mooar saying they want to keep him at the region.
He has refused to be drawn on his long-term future but has welcomed the return of Williams who could feature for Scarlets this season if Saracens offload the full-back early.
“It’s great for Welsh rugby,” said Halfpenny.
“For the Scarlets, he is a world-class player and will bring real quality to the region.
“To have that strength in depth in the squad is what we are trying to create with boys pushing each other for places.”
Williams is battling to be fit for the Six Nations opening weekend with Halfpenny in pole position to wear the Wales number 15 jersey against Italy as they start the defence of their title.
Head coach Wayne Pivac will be taking charge of his first competition after replacing fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland who led Wales to the 2019 World Cup semi-final in Japan.
“The World Cup was an incredible experience but to get to a semi-final and just fall short was devastating because we went there believing we could go all the way,” said Halfpenny.
“This is a new era though and is hugely exciting. We are looking to build and continue on the success Wales have had.
“Winning the Grand Slam last season we are going into the Six Nations as defending champions and we go into the tournament looking to defend that title.
“The goal for the squad is dealing with the expectation and going out to retain our title again.”
Before that, Halfpenny will face his former side Toulon in the Challenge Cup at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday and then travel to face London Irish the following weekend.
“We have some big games coming up over the next two weeks with Scarlets,” said Halfpenny.
“It has been a pretty pleasing Christmas period which has allowed us to gain some momentum going into Europe.
“Saturday is going to be a huge test for us. Toulon are a great side with real quality across the park.
“It is huge for us for our progress in Europe and to keep ourselves alive, we need to win.”
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