Halfpenny ends drought as Wales crush Scotland in Cardiff
Wales made light of significant injury worries to get their Six Nations campaign off to a flying start as Leigh Halfpenny starred in a 34-7 drubbing of Scotland on Saturday.
Warren Gatland's preparations for the tournament were disrupted by a number of key players being ruled out with various fitness concerns, including the likes of Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams.
As a result, Scotland were touted as favourites to prevail in Cardiff and classed by many as dark horses to lift the trophy, but their dismal away form continued as Wales benefited from a whirlwind start that saw them score twice in the opening 12 minutes at the Principality Stadium.
Scotland have now lost 16 of their 18 away games in the Six Nations since 2010, their only two victories coming in Italy, and they contributed to their own downfall here as Gareth Davies intercepted Ali Price's pass to surge over.
Halfpenny passed 700 points in Tests as he registered his first try for five years soon afterwards, the full-back converting both scores and slotting two penalties as Wales moved 20-0 in front with half an hour to go.
Having gone 38 Tests without a try, Halfpenny made it two in one afternoon midway through the second period and the bonus point was secured in the closing stages as Steff Evans produced a stunning mid-air finish in the left corner, with Peter Horne's reply no more than a consolation.
Scotland spent most of the opening six minutes inside Wales territory but were suddenly undone as Price's pass infield was seized upon by opposite number Davies, who raced away to score from 60 metres.
Wales went close to a quickfire second when Evans knocked on with the line beckoning following superb build-up play involving locks Cory Hill and Alun Wyn Jones.
They did not have to wait long, however, as Scotland were penalised for an illegal feed into the resulting scrum, allowing Wales to work it left and then back to the right for Halfpenny to crash over.
1827 - Leigh Halfpenny has scored his first Test try since February 2013, 1827 days ago. Relief. pic.twitter.com/o4QtYZlYkN-- OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 3, 2018
The visitors continued to manoeuvre themselves into promising positions but on each occasion a sloppy turnover scuppered their efforts and their profligacy was further punished early in the second period as Halfpenny slotted a simple penalty.
John Barclay was the transgressor on that occasion and the visiting captain was penalised again shortly afterwards, Halfpenny thumping another kick straight down the middle from just inside the Scotland half.
There was no let up from Wales, who sent Halfpenny over for his second just after the hour, and Evans piled further misery on the away side with a spectacular winger's finish seven minutes from the end.
Horne gave the Scotland fans something to cheer with a minute remaining but it could not take the shine off a wonderful win for Wales.