LONDON, March 22 (Reuters) - Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny was named the player of the Six Nations championship on Friday after winning 40 percent of the votes cast by more than 80,000 rugby fans.
Halfpenny, one of a shortlist of 15 players compiled using a combination of match statistics and social media appearances, was a worthy winner after his consistent all-round performances helped Wales retain the title in their momentous last-day victory over England.
The 24-year-old Cardiff Blues back won two man of the match awards, was the tournament’s top points scorer with 74 and is the favourite to fill the number 15 jersey on the British and Irish Lions’ tour of Australia this year.
“It’s a real honour and privilege and I‘m overwhelmed to be in among the players shortlisted,” Halfpenny said in a statement.
”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. For my name to be added to the list of players who have won this award in the past is incredible and extremely humbling.
“As players the squad have shown 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. We have amazing fans in Wales and they showed that on the weekend and it’s pretty overwhelming that they have backed be and I can’t thank them enough.”
It is the second year in a row that a Welshman has taken the honours following flanker Dan Lydiate’s success last season.
“Leigh is fearless, courageous and is one of the best fullbacks in world rugby and he can be very proud of his performances throughout the championship,” said Wales interim coach Rob Howley.
“He constantly strives for perfection in his preparation and performance and sets high standards. 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.”
Italy back rower Alessandro Zanni was second in the voting with 11 percent with Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg third on eight percent.
Editing by John Mehaffey