Howley praises 'talent' Davies
Wales centre Jonathan Davies has been hailed as "a huge talent" as he closes in on a possible return to Test match rugby in the RBS 6 Nations showdown against England.
Davies has seen just 40 minutes of competitive action since suffering a torn pectoral muscle during Wales' Millennium Stadium loss to South Africa four months ago.
But he will feature for the Scarlets in their RaboDirect PRO12 appointment with Munster on Saturday, knowing that a potential Wales comeback at Twickenham could be just eight days away.
Davies, Scott Williams, Cory Allen, Owen Williams and Ashley Beck were midfield options all unavailable to Wales boss Warren Gatland for the title-reviving victory over France a week ago, and wing George North was moved to outside centre alongside Jamie Roberts.
A fully-fit Davies firing on all cylinders, though, would undoubtedly enhance Welsh prospects of stalling England's title bid and keep the reigning champions on course for a record third successive Six Nations crown.
"We are all aware of how talented Jon Davies is, and he flourished last summer (with the British and Irish Lions in Australia)," Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said.
"We just hope he can prove his fitness. We just have to see how he comes through the game on Saturday.
"He played against London Irish (on February 1) and there is always going to be a feeling that you are off the pace a bit.
"He has trained extremely well since the Irish game and this is a second match for him. Hopefully, fingers crossed, he will come through very well.
"It is good to have a quality player back in the selection mix. He is a huge talent who matured particularly well with the Lions and was fantastic in the championship last year.
"He has become a senior player within our leadership group, and the combination of him and Jamie has flourished. Having him available would be a huge boost for Wales."
Lock Alun-Wyn Jones, meanwhile, has not yet resumed training after missing the France game due to a foot infection. His absence meant a first Test start for the Scarlets' Jake Ball.
"We hope he will be able to train on Saturday morning and next week, so we will see how he is," Howley said.
"We were disappointed to lose him just before the France game, but he had been on antibiotics throughout the week. His well-being is fine, so we will just wait and see."
Gatland is not due to name his starting line-up for Twickenham until next Wednesday, giving him plenty of time to decide on a possible Davies return or retaining North in the number 13 shirt.
North scored an early try against France, but it was also the first time in his 38-cap Wales career that he was not a starting wing.
"It's very difficult when you have been playing a position since the age of eight or nine that you become automated," Howley said.
"Having three wings on the field in terms of shape did not help us at times and we lost our shape on occasions, which was expected. But obviously as a ball-carrier and someone to get over the gain-line, George is as effective as anyone.
"Having him and Jamie in the centre helped Jamie as well, and he came to the fore. It's about that balance of 12 and 13.
"Jamie and Jon know each other very well and have played together. It's that natural combination and partnership they have developed over the last three or four years."
England announced their title credentials by defeating previously-unbeaten Ireland last time out, a result given added significance by the way Wales' next Six Nations opponents fought back from 10-3 adrift early in the second period.
"England at home are a very potent attacking side. I thought they played particularly well against Ireland," Howley said.
"You don't beat Ireland by not playing well. They went 10-3 down, but over the last year England have become more mature and learnt about getting momentum back in games.
"To come back and win against that Ireland side, they deserve great credit for that.
"Everyone is talking about 12 months ago (Wales beat England by a record 30-3 scoreline in Cardiff) but that has no relevance on this game.
"It's a Triple Crown game for them, they are at home. They want to win a Triple Crown and we want to remain in the championship (title) shout. That's what is on the line."