Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Walker can grab Wales place - Howley

Rob Howley believes Eli Walker, pictured, 'absolutely poses a challenge' to George North and Alex Cuthbert

Wales will not be afraid to unleash the express pace of uncapped Ospreys wing sensation Eli Walker on this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Interim head coach Rob Howley believes 20-year-old Walker "absolutely poses a challenge" to established Wales strike-runners George North and Alex Cuthbert, who have scored 16 Test tries between them.

"Eli absolutely poses a challenge to George and Alex. He is there for competition," Howley said. "He was in our discussions during the autumn series this season. We just felt for continuity it was better to stick with Harry (Robinson), but Eli has proved us wrong. He is the in-form winger in the UK at this moment."

Walker will be joined by four other Test rookies - locks James King and Andrew Coombs, plus Cardiff Blues back-row pair Josh Navidi and Andries Pretorius - when a 35-man squad reports for Six Nations duty next week.

Despite making only 27 starts during his fledgling Ospreys career, Walker has thrilled audiences across Europe through dazzling footwork and blistering speed.

His stunning second-half break set up substitute Jonathan Spratt's late try that helped the Ospreys secure a draw against Heineken Cup rivals Leicester last Sunday, a game that Howley watched.

And Howley added: "His performances over the Christmas period were very consistent, and particularly on the big stage in the Heineken Cup, his performances against Toulouse and Leicester. His work-rate and ability to work off the ball is what you want. He has ability to beat a man, good work-rate, and his handling and decision-making on the ball is really good.

"There are not many unforced errors in his game, and international rugby is about not making mistakes. He's very accurate on the ball and runs hard - that is a constant you need in international rugby."

While Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts are Wales' established midfield pairing, powerful North is viewed by many as a Test centre-in-waiting, and it is conceivable that Walker's arrival on the scene could see that happen, especially if Davies or Roberts pick up an injury.

More injuries are the last thing that Howley needs, though, given that he has been unable to include three unfit locks - Alun-Wyn Jones (shoulder), Bradley Davies (ankle) and Luke Charteris (knee) - among his initial Six Nations group.

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