Six Nations: Hero Leigh Halfpenny redeems World Cup hurt

Leigh Halfpenny admits his last minute penalty winner in Wales' opening Six Nations triumph over Ireland laid to rest ghosts of his World Cup heartache.

Halfpenny missed a late penalty in Wales' 9-8 semi-final defeat to France to secure them a first World Cup final appearance but he was a hero in Dublin.

He took over kicking duties from off-target Rhys Priestland and Halfpenny guided Wales to a stunning victory.

"After the heartache of the miss against France," said Halfpenny.

"I felt a lot of hurt from that and it was great to put that right and put it behind me.

"When I saw we had a late penalty I was obviously very nervous - but so relieved to see the ball go over.

"I knew I hit it well but I made sure I watched it go over."

Halfpenny was given the opportunity for the 30 metre penalty after Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris conceded a penalty - for which he was sin-binned - for a dangerous tackle on Wales lock Ian Evans.

Priestland, who had been struggling with a knee injury in the build-up to the tournament, missed all of his three kicks - a conversion and two penalties - at the Aviva Stadium as Wales should have beaten Ireland more convincingly.

Halfpenny, also a proven top-class kicker, stepped forward in the second half to convert Jonathan Davies' second try and kick two penalties, including the decisive late winner in Dublin, as Wales secured a third successive win over their Celtic rivals.

But Wales coach Warren Gatland took responsibility for Wales' kicking failure in the first-half, admitting: "I probably need to have a look at myself.

"Leigh Halfpenny should have been given the kicking duties to start with as Rhys is coming back from an injury.

"But it is a hard decision to make because you're trying to give the player confidence and if you're kicking for touch and kicking gives, it gives you confidence in other aspects of your game.

"We made that decision to change during the game Leigh stepped up and did a great job.

"Apart from his kicking game, I thought Rhys Priestland… his overall game was very good."

Halfpenny admits it would be "a dream come true" if he was handed Wales' full-time kicking reigns starting in Sunday's visit of Scotland to Cardiff.

"I've kicked since I was a youngster," said the 23-year-old from the Cardiff Blues.

"I never dreamt I would play for Wales, let alone kick for Wales and I'd love to get the opportunity but that is up to the coaches. It would be a dream come true, I'd be thrilled to bits."

Halfpenny's eight points in Ireland on Sunday was his best points haul with the boot in his 28 Wales caps.