WALES and British & Irish Lions hero Leigh Halfpenny has been hailed as the best goalkicker in world rugby by coach Warren Gatland, writes Andrew Penman.

Halfpenny played a key part in Wales’ Six Nations victory and was named man of the series in the victorious Lions tour of Australia, where his 21 points in the deciding third Test was an individual record.

A stunning year of achievement was rewarded with the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year award on Monday and Wales and Lions coach Gatland is certain that Halfpenny is a worthy recipient.

“It’s deserved because the work he puts in is phenomenal,” said Gatland. “The harder you work the luckier you get in terms of success and currently there’s no better goalkicker in the world.

“He started on the wing but now there’s no better full back in the world. Positionally he’s got no equal and with the goalkicking you’re expecting it to go over because that’s how good he is.”

Modest Halfpenny himself paid tribute to kicking coach Neil Jenkins and insisted he can still improve.

“It’s very overwhelming to hear the trust that he (Gatland) has in me,” said the 24-year-old Cardiff Blues ace.

“It comes from hard work with kicking practice and I’m very fortunate to have a great kicking coach in Neil Jenkins.

“He was a fantastic kicker and without him I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

“But I’ll keep trying to look for areas I can work on and improve in my game,” he added.

“I want to score a few more tries but you need to pay attention to every aspect of you game or you won’t improve.”

It would be hard for Halfpenny to improve on 2013 but he’s looking ahead to 2014 with plenty of optimism.

“It’s been an amazing year, a dream come true. I couldn’t have wished for it to go better,” he said.

“The standards that the Welsh coaching staff demand from the squad have made us a very special team.

“We’ve achieved so much already but we’re a pretty young team and there is the potential to win so much more.”